Friday, August 19, 2016
The Age of the Coward
Not long ago I read a frightening book--So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2016). In it, he tells the stories of folks who've tweeted carelessly--or posted something carelessly--and received such a hailstorm of (mostly) anonymous opprobrium and vicious commentary that their lives were fundamentally altered. And not for the better. Jobs lost. Homes lost. And so on.
This is the Dark Side of social media, of course--and by "social media" I don't mean just Twitter and Facebook and the like. Many, many other sites (like Amazon.com) permit folks--anonymously--to comment and criticize and castigate to their dark heart's content.
I've been the recipient of some of this (and will probably get some more for this)--and I've just done my best not to let it affect me--and to avoid reading such things whenever I can. But some of it can be, well, frightening--not just in the words but in the obvious rancor and bile that fuel them.
Nowadays, everyone can be a critic. No qualifications required, other than an Internet connection and an attitude. No, you don't need to know all that much (or anything) about books or music or art or restaurant fare or politics or sports or anything else; you just need to have a need. And a sharp knife.
We have been nearing a time (and maybe we're already there?) when all opinions are equal. And--in our polarized society--the nastier the better. You and I can share with the world what we think, and this, apparently, is just too much for the bitter among us to resist.
All of this is, of course, cowardly. When I published book reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, my name was on all of them. And from time to time I took heat from the writer, the writer's family and friends. Never pleasant. Same for the op-ed pieces I wrote for many years. But I knew that this went with the territory. And so I learned to accept it.
And when I published books myself, I was never pleased by negative comments or reviews (there were a few), but I saw the name of the reviewer, the name of the publication, and I knew this was just part of the process. And, again, I learned to accept it.
But I just can't stand today's vicious anonymity. What's the source of this bitterness? This passion to injure? To destroy? Why do some think it's fun--and acceptable?--to post some outrageous comment and hide behind some opaque screen-name while doing so? To me, it's no different from throwing rocks from a freeway bridge. Or painting objectionable symbols on someone's house. Then running away.
Cowardice has always come in a variety of forms. Now we have a new one. A new one that empowers anyone to torment--and to pay no consequences whatsoever. The Internet has flung open the gates of the human zoo, and the fanged ones are among us.