There have always been people crouching behind barriers and throwing stones. In an actual battle, this strategy is in fact prudent. But when the stones are being thrown at unwilling participants it is abusive, and when the abuser is shielding him/herself it is bullying. (Bullying is by definition an abuser preying on a weaker person. Hiding offers protection, exposure leaves one weaker.)
Since the dawn of time, or since there were enough people on the planet to adequately ostracize some of them; people have bullied other people. Often groups decide that someone, or groups of someones are a threat to the status quo. The group itself gives rise to an enthusiasm and sense of protection for the abusers. Persecution of women in Salem, backlashes to integration and voting rights, gay bashing; we have a rich national history of bullying, And it’s getting worse.
We are in a time of economic uncertainty, political polarization, political correctness pressure and the internet. People have not become more or less decent, they just may feel more threatened. Nothing gets the bully’s goat like threat. But what brings the simmering increase of abuse to the boiling point is the rise of technology. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and countless website comment sections, have allowed for a new form of white hood. There is a vile cocktail of exhibitionism and hatred that litters the comment sections of legitimate news outlets. For some reason web editors and/or executives are allowing their brand to be a platform for hate groups. These posters use tragically uncreative screen names to hide behind, while rabidly posting. The unsuspecting reader is affronted with spewing from people calling themselves by war criminal’s names.
I am willing to concede, that just like wildly offensive television programming, the viewer can avoid the offensive material pretty easily. But I am concerned about the news outlets sense of responsibility and integrity. Offensive and abusive comments on Facebook and Twitter can easily be blocked and ignored as well. Even bloggers can block nasty commenters with ugly agendas. But where does this leave us?
The fact that we can protect ourselves from these high tech hooded thugs, doesn’t address the real issue. Why are we allowing people to hide in plain sight. Newspapers have long made it de rigueur to only publish letters from individuals with confirmed identities. Make no mistake, I am not advocating restraints on free speech. Far from it. But surely we have the technology to expose these people? The rest of us non-software engineers, should ignore the comments (versus engaging) and not patronize sites whose management allows for this behavior. People are entitled to be as dark and hateful as they desire, but civilized societies should not allow for them to do so in disguise.