Hiding Behind the Anonymity of the Internet

th.jpgAs many mothers know, caring for an infant can often translate to binge-watching Netflix for hours while your baby eats or sleeps in your arms.  I have watched more TV in the past nine and a half months than ever before.  And I know that I’m not alone in this- plenty of mothers have posted on Facebook looking for Netflix suggestions in the past ten months.

Most recently, I’ve completed the series Black Mirror, a British anthology series that explores a futuristic world where our current technology has been brought to its logical, though sometimes far-fetched, conclusion.  For instance, one episode depicts a world where people are judged according to the status that they have achieved through a social media-type rating system, similar to the ‘likes’ on sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Another episode features a program that gathers together all your status updates and online posts to enable your loved ones to “communicate” with you even after you’ve died via texts, then phone calls (using saved voice messages to mimic voice), and finally through an android made to look and act like you.  Far-fetched, but with plausible roots.  Heaven knows that plenty of us get upset when our engagement announcement, wedding photos, or baby pictures don’t get as many likes as another person’s.  And I can think of a few people whose quantity and quality of Facebook posts would make it very easy to create a conversation simulation.  As far-fetched as some of the episodes were, the foundations of each were really spot-on.

The final episode of the series featured the same focus on social media, but with a slightly different twist- the viciousness that runs rampant because of the anonymity offered by the Internet.  The episode explored the tendency to be less considerate- and even blatantly cruel- when we can hide behind our username or avatar.  In the not so distant future, a man disgusted by just this tendency conceives of a master plan to punish those people who hide behind their anonymity while online.  After introducing the hashtag #DeathTo to the social media community, users begin completing the sentence with the names of people that they hate.  At 5PM each day, the person who has accumulated the most hashtags with their name is murdered.  At the conclusion of the episode, it is discovered that this has only been a means to identify those who are willing to say awful things about people as long as they can remain anonymous, and all those who have used the #DeathTo hashtag- nearly 400,000 people- are killed.

650_1200.jpgWhile it seems incredibly unlikely that we will ever be faced with such an outlandish reality, the temptation to be cruel and hide behind the anonymity offered by the Internet is very real.  The episode stood out even more because of recent events.  In the days leading up to and immediately following the presidential election, I saw the absolute worst side of people come out.  People who normally posted pictures of their dog or their meals were suddenly condemning Trump supporters to hell, or telling them to shove things in inappropriate places.  There was so much hate, so many comment threads filled with derogatory name-calling.  I scanned through countless pointless arguments between people who quite possibly didn’t know each other, drawn together by some mutual acquaintance who had posted something about Republicans or Democrats.

There might not have been any #DeathTo hashtag, but there were quite a few obscure death threats made, especially after Trump was elected president.  I never would have thought that so many people could claim to want an entire group of people to suffer, to die even.  But it would seem that many people feel comfortable saying all sorts of vicious things as long as they can hide behind their usernames.  They might not be completely anonymous, but the Internet and its many social media sites provide the opportunity to communicate with plenty of people that they will most likely never meet in person.  And if there’s no chance that you will ever have to face that person, that you will have to acknowledge your cruelty by seeing their hurt when you meet, you won’t be as inhibited.  There isn’t as much to stop you from letting your darkest thoughts and your deepest fears surface.

It would seem that the Internet and its countless social media sites have brought out the absolute worst in people.  It has transformed calm, soft-spoken men and women into brute animals who have no qualms about destroying other people through hate speech.  The same people who preach love, tolerance, and peace condemn thousands of people to hell, telling them that the only reasonable response to their opinions is death.  On more than one occasion, I have encountered social media comments dictating what sorts of people deserve to live, suggesting that only those who agree 100% with their opinions deserve life.  Everyone else should go to hell, should die, should be beaten so that they can understand the pain and suffering of the minorities, of blacks, of women, of gays and lesbians, of whatever group is currently being targeted.  As if the only solution to our problem of hatred is more hatred.  As if we must answer death with death, pain with pain, discrimination with discrimination, alienation with alienation.  But that just exacerbates the problem, that just feeds the hatred.

If we want to live in a world of love, true tolerance, and peace, the solution does not involve making vicious comments on social media sites.  The countless comments did not help.  They did not reverse the election results.  They did not bring back the dead or heal the wounds of the suffering.  They just caused more pain.  They destroyed friendships and relationships.  They set father against son, mother against daughter, brother against sister, friend against friend.  They just caused more division.  We might not yet live in the world of Black Mirror, but if we are not careful now, we might create this world for ourselves.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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