The advancement in communication is a marvelous thing, isn’t it? I mean, we can Skype in with friends and family around the globe, catch up with our childhood buddies via Facebook, and feel the instant gratification of reaching out to others via text and e-mail. Today, we don’t even have to go out on our frigid Midwestern front porches to gather a frozen newspaper, bring it in and wait for it to thaw before read the latest news. We have the luxury of booting up our computers while a fresh pot of coffee brews in the kitchen. The Internet has really brought us all together, hasn’t it? Or, then again, maybe not.
Too frequently I read with horror the vitriolic spew that splashes across my computer monitor and I am left wondering what has become of our society? Has the information superhighway that allows easy and instant access to our comments turned everyone into pundits and commentators, cementing the belief that we have this inalienable right to trample on the feelings of others? It would seem so.
Recently, tragedy struck again in my beloved court reporting industry, a subset of the legal industry. And history, it appears, is quickly repeating itself. I won’t go into the history of the tragedy because it would only serve to compound the problem. Rather, I choose to focus on the reaction of others – loose-lipped sideliners who think their heartless reactions to a stranger’s tragic situation somehow hold merit when posted to chat threads or as comments to articles. Modern lexicon has a sprouted a new term for those who lurk behind the presumed privacy of their home computers, allowing them some sort of anonymity as they post every nasty thought that pops into their pea-sized brains; they’re known as trolls.
I have a long-held theory about trolls: Internet trolls, folks who feel compelled to tap out ugliness on their computer keyboard, so pleased to post their latest ill-conceived notion, are really nothing more than thinly-veiled cowards hiding in their dark and gloomy basements. Truth be told, these cowards would be hard-pressed to repeat out loud in the company of others the very same words that seem so easy for them to post from their shadowy hiding place.
The story isn’t an attempted murder-suicide. The story isn’t a coworker who lost touch with reality on the Senate floor. No, no, that’s not the story that requires our attention today. Indeed, it is a much bigger story, one filled with universal truths. That is, what we say and how we say it, when posted for the world to view, has far-reaching consequences. What we post to the Internet is not a private conversation but a global communiqué, a message that might just reach its intended target.
Perhaps one should make an internal query before they tap that pesky “enter” key, asking the rhetorical, “In the wake of great suffering, would I like to see these exact same remarks directed at me – or my child, sibling, spouse or relative?” The answer, I would suggest, has already been posted on Facebook. I read it just this morning. To quote Tina Sergent Seward, “There are some times and some circumstances where the best thing I can say is, ‘I'm so sorry. There are no words.’"
I’m off to Willow Creek Church now to sit in quiet contemplation and prayer, not just for those who are suffering great personal tragedy today, but in equal prayer for those who have come to believe that Internet bashing is among their First Amendment rights.