Curt Varone wrote an excellent post on the Fire Law blog today on the concept of cyberbullying, this after a firefighter posted photos that could be construed as unflattering and might even go on to be considered hateful. He even presented this poignant question: “How do we, as members of the Internet community, draw our own lines about what is and is not fair game when it comes to humor, satire and parody?”
So, after reading the post, I replied about how much I enjoyed the article and how it seems, to me, to be an issue of maturity and self-control, which we will talk about in a second. After hitting the send button, I watched the extraordinarily funny video on the “People of Walmart” that he used as an example, and thinking it to be a good illustration of why I prefer not to shop at Walmart, I shared that video on my Facebook page.
I then sat and sipped on my triple espresso and began to write a sanctimonious post on how bullies were ruining the internet, blah, blah, blah…
The funny part about being introspective is that when you begin to practice it, you see yourself in a whole different light, and each time, you begin to see it more quickly (as in, before regretting it, sometimes). As I began to write and speak about how people are different and we needed to be a little more appreciative of differences in individuals, it occurred to me that by sharing the Walmart video, I wasn’t any better than anyone else. Not only that, I was a hypocrite, which is precisely the one thing I don’t ever want to be.
Curt asked this of us:
“Can we protect Jayden [the subject of the post] and still have our funny Walmart photos? Is there a line that can be drawn that makes one OK and the other not?”
In my comment to Curt, I stated: “I think that a lot of problems [in what could be considered cyberbullying] could be traced back to maturity and some personal self-control [sic].” Not a very well written sentence with the redundancy, but you get it, I hope. My point, however was that there have been plenty of times where an inappropriate comment or reply has crossed my mind, something that in context might have been funny, even between me and the subject, but then I thought better of it.
I believe, of course, that there is nothing wrong with sarcasm, cynicism, or even good ol’ fashioned sophomoric humor. But the bigger question has always been: Do I want this attributed to me?” Or do I want it to be seen by people who see me as being above that? Or is this how I want to represent Firehouse Zen? Or the greater emergency services culture?
I said in that comment that it “almost” seems to me to be the equivalent of handing a child a weapon. Given the outcomes of some of the more publicized events (suicide or retaliatory homicide), maybe that isn’t so far of a reach. The child doesn’t necessarily understand the power they are holding. They don’t have a grasp on the gravity of the situation. With the pull of a trigger, they can launch down an irrevocable path with unbelievable repercussions. The child may mean absolutely nothing in doing so. The action might even be the result of mishandling the weapon. But regardless of intention, it still does damage.
The pro-gun folks could have a field day with this discussion, but it is completely relevant: How do we regulate something with so much power to change lives, so that those who don’t understand or can’t appreciate the outcomes don’t end up with the ability to hurt others? Do we take it away? Do we restrict access? Or is this truly an adaptive issue we need to address not through a technical fix, but through a change in culture? I don't believe an across-the-board ban on internet speech is any more useful than an across-the-board ban on weapons. But the million dollar question is how do we manage to protect the vulnerable from those who mean them harm, regardless of the context?
I have no doubts that there are plenty of malicious individuals on the internet. I see them every day, cowering behind their keyboards, making references, creating innuendo, spouting about subjects of which they have no knowledge, and doing so without repercussion. There are comments I read that frankly, make me think to myself that I’d love to meet that individual and push their f***ing teeth in.
But while the internet is not for the weak of heart, it provides us the ability to share information that we couldn’t do before. With the “send” button firmly pushed, I can converse with people in foreign lands, people who I would never have met, or may not ever meet, just because of the issues of time and place. The thing I can see as being a precious tool that has changed my life can, honestly, also be used against me if someone so chooses, and with my being able to do nothing about it. So just as we don’t go walking into saloons with revolvers strapped to both hips without expecting a fight, there are places and people and conversations to avoid on the internet as not to cause yourself to be the focus of someone’s “weapon”. But honestly, I also don’t want to be a cyberbully either, so I must resolve to be what I say I am and not contribute to the distribution of the same material.
In reference to the Walmart video; it IS funny. It is accurate in that these people have gone into a Walmart and been photographed in public. And I concede that if you do these things, perhaps you open yourself up to a certain amount of criticism or ridicule. But on the other hand, I found it pretty tragic as well. Really, who knows if some of these people aren’t suffering from an emotional disturbance or simply are clueless about how they look or what it is they are doing. Like I have heard said, “They obviously don’t have friends or a mirror.” You know, really, we should be instead grateful that we aren't ourselves suffering the same fate.
One person may not be able to change the world overnight, but we can at least give it our best shot. Being human, I realize that I can’t control everything, but I can control myself and be a responsible individual and a good example for my family, friends and colleagues. And while I may laugh, I need to do so in a way that isn’t mean or hurtful to others, despite how viral the laughing might be.
Watch where you are pointing, because tomorrow, the pointing could very well be in your direction.