Plato, Henry David Thoreau, and Justine Sacco walk into a bar…
Social media is downright incredible. We can do things today that were incomprehensible to the people living in small villages and seaport towns 200 years ago. In an instant, I can pull my cellphone from my pocket, tap a few times on the surface, and connect myself to millions and millions of people around me. I am able to access internet servers that come together to from an imaginary blanket that spans across the entire globe, linking tons of other people like myself and giving us mediums to communicate with one another. We have this virtually unlimited power in our modern times because of our exponentially increasing connectedness and intelligence due to the instant sharing of new ideas, and what do we do with it? We sign onto social media and call someone halfway across the globe an “asshole” for thinking a black and blue dress is white and gold. Why do we do this? Well, it’s pretty fun, and with no actual connection to this other person, who’s somewhere out there in the real world, there’s no consequences. While we all lead pretty average lives beside the people we see around us everyday, we’re essentially faceless amongst the sea of people who are all arguing online and calling each other names.
Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century Transcendentalist, once said, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Despite being born 200 years ago, Thoreau made the connection between technological advancement and its influence on our behavior. When technology presents us with new power, our actions are governed by the ways in which we can use this power. Think about Plato’s myth regarding the Ring of Gyges, a ring that would allow its wearer to become invisible. Plato theorized that possessing such power would corrupt the wearer, exposing their innermost evils as they act invisibly without consequence. The same can be said for our pseudo invisibility whenever we’re online. The power to say and do what we want to people who can’t retaliate to us personally is at the tips of all our fingers (or thumbs if you’re on mobile).
Of course our facelessness affects how we speak to others. In a way, it makes us more honest. We can speak our minds regarding things that would otherwise be difficult to talk about in person. Some people go overboard with this, exaggerating their opinions to get an entertaining response. Others are more responsible, keeping in mind that they might not have Plato’s ring of invisibility forever.
Allow me to add myself to the long list of people who have ignorantly thrown their opinions around regarding Justine Sacco, everyone’s favorite PR specialist. Justine made an offensive comment over social media that seemed harmless to her at the time, but eventually drew enough attention to cause a massive outrage. Millions of people banded together on Twitter and other social media outlets to express their disdain for Justine’s tweet — sort of like a virtual mob of angry pitchfork wielding townsfolk. She was fired from her job, her family life became unstable, and she lost many of her friends.
Did she deserve this all? Yes and no. Yes, she made a risky comment that she expected very few people to actually see, foolishly forgetting that anything can happen on the internet. And no, people online need to calm down sometimes. Sure, Justine’s comments were offensive, but to create an internet trend out of hating her is a little uncalled for. This is the 21st century. Who honestly cares if someone with minimal influence and exposure goes overboard with one comment. Plenty of people care, you say? Well that’s dumb and they shouldn’t. Get over it.
Justine was entirely responsible for the outrage that stormed up against her. It was her comment that got everyone riled up, so all of the liability rests solely on her. Yet at the same time, whether you sympathize with her or wish death on her, you simply can’t sit there and argue that she isn’t insanely unlucky. Going viral on social media can be a blessing, unless your popularity is due to the fact that you said something racist. Then you’re pretty screwed.
TL;DR: People act recklessly online because of their supposed invisibility to everyone in the “real world”. Just remember — you are indeed invisible, up until you’re not. Just ask Justine.