Facebook Snipers

One minute you’re here, the next you’re not. Such is life. As entertainment has gotten more and more violent over the last thirty years, it has become more common for writers and directors to build a character up only to rip them from the story in a moment with a sniper shot. The person who just saved the day is usually walking and laughing along when, from out of the blue, their head explodes. They never see it coming, and it’s most unsettling to watch. When you think of all the vets that have had to witness it in battle, it’s no wonder they have trouble rebuilding their lives when they get home. All’s fair in love and war, but to execute someone without any chance of defense is both callous and cold-blooded. It’s regrettable that treachery has become so commonplace in our culture, but here we are.
I watched a show where one of the characters got sniped the other day. I won’t tell you which one because I’m ashamed I was watching it. It’s one of those train wrecks I just can’t seem to look away from, but it’s not at all uplifting. Then last week I became aware of another kind of sniper, one with a much less permanent and consequential result. I got nailed by a Facebook sniper. It would seem I made a mistake. I’m sure the reader is shocked to learn that I’m capable of doing so, but it happened. It was a fairly insignificant thing that I could’ve completely corrected in less than five minutes, but the sniper was not so kind as to allow me that courtesy. Instead of picking up the phone and alerting me to my error, they picked up the i-Phone and went to social media to tell the world what a buffoon I am. Classy. It wasn’t till one of my actual (non Facebook) friends called later in the day that I found out I was being lambasted by a bunch of people I didn’t even know. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but small people on the web will never hurt me. It was a trivial thing, but it did take the wind out of my sails for a couple hours. That’s my fault for sweating the small stuff.
Like alcohol, some people can use social media responsibly. Others just turn into drunken idiots who hurt everyone around them. There’s an old Johnny Paycheck song that says: “But you know every beer joint that you’ve ever been in. Some big, mean drunk who just ain’t got no friend. Sure enough, he wants to fight. Yeah, he’s gonna whip everything in sight.” That’s Facebook for you; a bunch of big mean drunks with no friends. Most people just go in for a drink, but there’s one in every crowd who can’t wait to pick a fight.
Less than a week after that sniper took a potshot at me, I was sorry to see a colleague get hit. What purpose did it serve? None. It was just someone who should’ve known better taking advantage of a situation. I suspect a little green eyed monster had more to do with it than anything else. Author, Wendy Mass, wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” The reader might note that anyone writing internet attacks at one o’clock in the morning might have more issues in their life than their words imply. The internet is a wonderful tool that has brought much knowledge and efficiency into our lives, but the power that it brings is a dangerous one. Voltaire told us that great power imposes great responsibility. This was never truer than with the bullhorn that is social media. Inciting a riot is a crime, but there is no sheriff on patrol in cyberspace at 1:00 am. The damage those rioters do is generally emotional, not property. It’s harder to prosecute even if there was a sheriff.
The moral of the story is this: Think before you post. I imagine someone is scoffing at this point. With all the things I’ve published here, you might think I should heed my own advice. My material gets reviewed and re-reviewed by me before publishing, and it has to get past my editor after that. I can only imagine how much trouble I’d be in if I just wrote it up in the middle of the night and put it out there without anyone reading. If only I could get someone to edit all my emails and text messages, I’d probably have stepped on far fewer toes over the years. Even with those, I’m learning to slow down and think before pushing send. With each gray hair I’m thinking more about how people will take things, and what I’m actually trying to say. After all, there’s no body language or inflection in an email or web post. We may rarely mean to take potshots, but a keyboard is like a gun. It must be handled with respect for human life.

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