When a Diversion Becomes a Weapon

Facebook was created initially as a way to rate hot or not hot women. Not a great start for a worldwide diversion and the substitute for news media for a huge chunk of the population.

If you do a Google search for “Facebook ruined my life” there are nearly two million links available to browse — everything from someone posting something overtly racist or sexist, a status that defamed their workplace, to people losing their livelihoods for a misinterpreted statement that blew up to massive proportions and cruel online gangs both directly and indirectly persisting in harassment until the victim’s reputation has been destroyed.

No question that this harmless diversion, home to countless photos of meals and vacations and videos of cats and dogs and babies, has become powerful enough to become weaponized.

Take Ted Klein of Portland, OR. It seems that Ted was a bit of a troglodyte when it came to his attitudes toward women. Given the irony that Facebook was, indeed, initially created to objectify and judge women’s looks, when Ted posted a derogatory comment about a random woman he saw in a Walgreen’s, the internet storm caught wind and rapidly escalated. His “fat shaming” post was shared by thousands of people and the vitriol and online taunting became so intense, Ted lost his job, went into a deep depression and his health became so poor due to the stress of it all, he ended up dying of a stroke at the age 46.

Granted, “fat shamers” are detestable but should the punishment for being an insensitive prick be utter scorched earth destruction?

With the admonition (made infamous by Louis CK) that when someone claims you hurt them, you can’t say you didn’t, the opening of the floodgates of ludicrous allegations of abusive behavior online seems to have grown like neo-McCarthyism. “Hurt” is a completely subjective state of being — a dirty joke about a Rabbi, a Priest and a Bear might “hurt” someone.

“Are you now or have ever been someone who told a joke in poor taste or offended someone?” 
If so, get ready for the onslaught of self righteous, angry people who may or may not even know you to leap onboard the Tar and Feather Brigade.

Given that offense, bullying and even harassment are legally subjective terms (like obscenity) there is no legal standard for determining these things. There is no specific law barring the posting of private correspondence online, there is no specific law barring someone from accusing you of a non-crime without specific evidence against you, and there is no reasonable limit placed upon the number of digital encounters that can legally constitute harassment.

In other words, I can:

  • Take private letters or emails you’ve sent to me (texts as well) and post them online with your name and contact information without consequence.
  • Publicly accuse you of a non-crime (I can’t just call you a “rapist” or a “murderer” because those are crimes) like bullying or catcalling or abusing your power without any specific instances listed or made available as many times as I want to and do it without any concern that I will be held accountable for the consequences.
  • Accuse you of stalking me if you merely make a joke at my expense online.

Recently, my friend, co-worker and podcasting co-host Tyler, started wondering if he should “take a break” from Facebook. Partly because he felt it was a huge distraction from his actually getting the business of living done and partly from watching Facebook used as an overly melodramatic weapon. My advise was to unfriend and block those who use it as a weapon (although when he becomes the source of controversy, the Venn Diagram of connections almost guarantees he will still be shown at some point the shitmouthing about him). Others suggested he deactivate his account or just remove it from his phone as an app.

As with all tools of media, Facebook (and Twitter and Tumblr and on and on) is most often used for its purpose: distraction, connection, sharing. In its best uses, it becomes a platform for justice, exposing the dark corners of our society in the broadest possible way — as Ta-Nehisi Coates declared on police brutality “The Violence is Not New, It’s the Cameras That are New.”

In this very recent polarization of political ideologies and strident intolerance, some use this very powerful media platform for petty, vengeance seeking reasons and use it as a weapon of personal vendetta. If we’re collectively cool with the Donald Trumps of our various circles to use social media this way (or are simply too afraid to fight back) then the wild, insane Id of society will continue its course of personal destruction. If not, maybe we should do something about it because Tyler and my mom love it.

As for me, I’ve decided that the game of high school dramatics combined with the adult sense of blood in the water is simply too much weapon for my taste. With my big mouth and generally unapologetic nature it isn’t any surprise that I have pissed off a few people (including ex-wives and their husbands, ex-girlfriends, folks I’ve determined no longer of value in my life, insecure performers in need of a boost by insulting me, people I never liked much and that really pissed them off, people who crossed the line of unprofessionalism, etc.), and the environment of neo-McCarthyism has become a waste of my limited time. I won’t be chased off of social media by a tiny mob of people whose self importance and impotent rage are the things of modern incivility. I won’t, however, bother to engage them anymore. You can’t win an argument with a (Lydia) Trump supporter because they stopped listening long ago.

I have deactivated both my Facebook and Twitter accounts for the time being. For those reading this, I’d ask that you not send me screenshots of continued bullshit regarding my personal circumstances. Not worth the time it takes to fuck with for now. And, in spite of any victory dances being danced because of this choice, I’ll still be hosting The Moth to sold out crowds, I’ll still be seeking out storytellers of color and age and sexual orientation to invite to it, I’ll still be out there doing what I’ve always done. In fact, I’ll likely have a tad more time on my hands to actually do the work I do.

Originally published at www.donhallchicago.com.