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Social media leaves anyone with an opinion vulnerable to scorched-earth attacks

Demonize and dog-pile. If you disagree with me, you are not only wrong, you are evil. The enemy…

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So let it be written…

Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer gets mobbed because he refuses to wear “the ribbon?”

He’s participating in an AIDS walk, but refuses to wear a red AIDS ribbon in defiance of “ribbon bullies” who insist that he do so. He’s told he “has to,” to which he replies, “See, that’s why I don’t want to.”

Kramer’s decision is not well-received. During the walk, he gets called out by the crowd. “Who?! Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?” a furious participant demands. In the end, Kramer tries to scramble up a fire ladder to escape, but an angry mob yanks him down.

Sound familiar? It can serve as a metaphor for the tyranny we witness on social media, daily and even hourly. Demonize and dog-pile, demonize and dog-pile. If you disagree with me, you are not only wrong, you are evil. The enemy.

As Frank Zappa said, “There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”

That Seinfeld episode first aired on Dec. 7, 1995. Man, we have slid a long way down the garbage chute since then.

Don’t get me wrong, bonafide bad guys should get their comeuppance and social media can play a justified role in this. But so many people, decent ones among them, can find themselves in Kramer’s shoes these days, targeted for social or even financial mayhem for not obsequiously toeing this or that line or cause. Tried, drawn and quartered in the kangaroo courts of Facebook and Twitter.

People who simply have an opinion to express can fall victim to scorched-earth attacks launched by galactically uptight numbskulls who are either mortally challenged by their target’s philosophical leanings, real or perceived, or virulently outraged by any hesitation to embrace with reverence their personal views as sacrosanct, as the only acceptable one true path.

The result is people operating on guard, and sincerity, freedom of association, and expression of ideas suffer in the process.

These days anyone can be a target on social media, at any time, for what they say, where they go, who they see, or even none of the above. No second chances. Some people smell blood and see opportunity. All it takes is an unhinged hysterical personality armed with a smartphone and social media account to ruin one’s day, or worse, if their online campaign generates enough bandwagon tribalism and condemnation to bring real pressure to bear.

To the self-righteous and self-centred among us who wield social media as their own personal boom-stick, principles like tolerance, forbearance, magnanimity and even mercy are antiquated unless applied directly and liberally to themselves, and even then the application is mistaken as justice.

The tribalism and toxicity that thrives on social media is not only worrisome, it represents a genuine threat to individual liberty as long as enough people eagerly jump on attack bandwagons without paying due tribute to the golden rule.

Consider the wisdom of Victorian novelist George Eliot, who said “The responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision.”

This quote, too, can be found on the Internet. Its practice, not so much.

So let it be done.



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