The Social Media Courtroom (AKA) And There Was Much Rejoicing!

As I begin to write this I already see the problem inherent in the subject. I am about to use a form of social media to bash social media for being to quick to bash things. Should my glaring hypocrisy overwhelm me and attempt to cause me harm worry not, I have EMS on speed dial.

We have before us the greatest voice ever given to any population of human beings since civilization’s dawn. As recent as the 1980’s society had grown to a point where proper communication was less than efficient. if we dinosaurs recall correctly cell phones were not in everyone’s pocket. Chat messages, e-mail, and the wonders of social media were not in existence. 24 hour news was just a glimmer in Rupert Murdoch’s evil little eye. Somehow we trudged along, and society worked, just at a slower pace.

In the early 1990’s we humans spawned the internet, and as at the birth of television before it, there was much rejoicing. Unfortunately, “…in the frozen lands of Nador, we were forced to eat Robin’s minstrels, and there was much rejoicing.”[1] But soon the story of the cannibalizing of Robin’s minstrels leaked to social media. A grainy, out of focus video was see on YouTube which went viral and was quickly picked up by Reddit. A comment storm ensued which found its way to the national media outlets where cries of outrage and horror were heard from the nation as a whole, nay, the entire planet. In unison they cried for Robin’s head as, though having no previous record of cannibalization, he was the leader of this ragtag group of vagabonds and someone’s head must roll.

Thus dawned the cautionary tales of people and their run in with the all consuming nature of the internet and social media. The tales of those that first roused the beast and then were subsequently consumed by it. We have watched, and often applauded, as the beast has been set loose upon unsuspecting members of society, upon media darlings, celebrities, and politicians. We have seen them consumed never to be heard from again. And as a society, there has been much rejoicing. But how much of this is too much?

Right now I see no end in sight. I recall when Imus, a radio personality of which I was barely aware, made racial slurs against a women’s collegiate basketball team and it’s members. Before the advent of the internet only his listeners would have heard his comments. They liked him so they probably would have taken that as business as usual. No one would have much noticed, or cared. But in today’s world he was outed online. he was placed in front of the dreaded podium of shame, which is essentially the stocks of the day, and forced to apologize. He was forced to apologize to the young women he had offended but, in reality, he was being forced to apologize to us all.

You may have never heard of Imus. You may not give a flying something or other that he exists. You may not have known what he said or why. But you wanted that apology. We wanted that apology. Atone for your existence Mr. Imus, your time is at hand. Then slither off to think long and hard about what you have done.

The podium of shame is out there now. I would like to say it is empty today but as I type I have the television on and, though on mute, I see images of women speaking cut with pictures of Bill Cosby. It is his turn at the podium. It could well be argued his term is well deserved and you would find no opposing view in me. But because Bill Cosby is deemed as deserving does not mean all of the people that share that stage are.

In a true courtroom there are levels of guilt, levels of egregiousness. For example, there are murder one, murder two, manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and I am sure other levels of, yeah the person is dead but did you really mean to make them that way, guilt we can attach along with punishment we dole out. On social media there seems one crime, you pissed us off, followed by one penalty, out of my sight, out of my awareness.

If fair was a concept we all felt applied to the world then this would certainly not be a good application of it. This, coupled with the number of social media sentences handed down, on a nearly daily basis, is testament to a situation clearly out of control. The fact that I can write this without putting examples in is, in and of itself, testimony to the sheer quantity of cases because I know all of you are listing them in your head as you read.

Just post something offensive on facebook and wait. People you call friend will vilify you and, I admit, I am among them. Post on facebook on a comment out there that is from a larger source, or from someone you do not know, and the trolls, as we now call them, come out. They arrive in herds to assure you that they have, not only a vastly different opinion, but one which is most assuredly more correct than your own.

It seems, while the internet has definitely improved communication by giving people a voice, it may have proven why the world was, at the very least, a nicer place before we knew what that voice had to say. Social Media has proven that when humans are not required to confront others directly, and instead can voice their opinion from the seemingly anonymous protection of their dwelling, they get pretty brave. They also get darn mouthy, as they also like to get people fired, and ostracized, for things as egregious as disagreeing with them.

I am certain there was a time around the invention of television when it was heralded as a potential wondrous new age for communication and education. Then it made shows like “The Bachelor” and “Survivor” and “Three’s Company.” I am equally certain the internet was seen at its inception as very much the same. A wonderful new tool to share useful information, to communicate with one another globally and instantaneously. Now we have the courtroom. Now we have social media. Now we have countless opinions meant solely to belittle, judge, ostracize, and bully other humans. These opinions do not seek to be educated, nor do they seek to look for the positive in a situation in any way. rather they seek to destroy, ridicule, and spew forth their drivel with no thought and no empathy. They seek this and then they do much rejoicing. But, this time in the frozen lands of Nador the beast, aroused by the clamor of typing, turned upon and devoured the trolls themselves. And while there was not much rejoicing because, after consuming the entire herd of trolls there were limited numbers of humans left to rejoice. I assure you that those remaining rejoiced enough for us all. So it is written, so it shall be done.


[1]    Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)