Social media’s darkside makes an appearance


For those of you who are active on social media, you already know what I was doing with that first line. For those of you who have yet to jump on the most aggravating, entertaining, frustrating and addictive exit off the Information Superhighway, that first line is referred to in social media as a “hashtag” — a way to group similar Tweets or updates together so someone can follow a subject that interests them the most.

Sometimes, people will hashtag movies, actors or athletes, and sometimes people will just create one to get a conversation going by spurring a topic. And some people will use them just to add a little levity or gravity to their most recent post. Regardless, that is a hashtag, and that is what they are designed to do.

I chose that particular hashtag at the top of this column because something happened recently on Twitter that reminded me of the side of social media that makes me want to pull out my hair...

Shaddup. I know. I’m bald.

Regardless, the awful side of social media showed its ugly face again when longtime Major League Baseball player Curt Schilling decided to puff out his chest and make a Twitter announcement nearly any father would be happy to make:

“Congrats to Gabby Schilling who will pitch for the Salve Regina Seahawks next year!!!”

Nice, right? His daughter is going off to college, following in her famous father’s footsteps as a pitcher, and Curt wanted to share that joy with the world. Unfortunately, he shared it with a trolling, bitter, small-minded world of Twitter followers.

As Schilling explained on his blog, he received the customary congratulations responses, and a few light-hearted jokes from students at the school who find his daughter attractive. That, he said, was expected. But I’ll let him explain what also came his direction.

“And tweets with the word rape, bloody underwear and pretty much every other vulgar and defiling word you could likely fathom began to follow.”

Obviously, the responses infuriated Schilling, and he actively enlisted his followers to track down the people who made the filthy comments. A few of the offenders have been suspended from their universities. One man was fired from his job as a part-time ticket seller for the New York Yankees. Several, according to Schilling, were collegiate athletes, who should have known to show more respect to both Schilling and his daughter.

“What part of talking about a young woman, my daughter or not, makes you even consider the possibility that this is either funny or makes you tough,” Schilling asked in his blog.

And therein lies the rub. You see, people don’t consider the consequences of their actions when they begin firing verbal missiles online. There’s nobody standing in front of them to punch them on the nose, so they see no ramifications to what they say.

Obviously, it’s not everybody that abuses their free speech online. But it’s not as small a minority as there is in the real world, and they seemingly see no limits to how disgusting and destructive they can be from the safety of their keyboards.

We’ve heard stories here about restaurants and shops having to fend off unflattering comments about their businesses online. Actually, “unflattering” is not a fair word. Look at Yelp or TripAdvisor, and casually stream through some of the reviews.

You can see people with personal axes to grind who make reviews with the hope that the business they are discussing gets shut down or loses business. They are often former employees or competitors, and it just feeds the flames of other trolls online who are looking for an excuse to bash someone.

It seems that we are constantly hearing about young people being “cyber-bullied” on social media, and though I believe bullying has been around since the onset of the wedgie, it escalates when it’s online so that the person being targeted could potentially have his or her attacks read by everyone at the school and people from around the world, not to mention by parents or grandparents.

The Internet is an amazing animal, and I love using social media to share photos of the wee baby McCann with relatives and friends, as well as following my favorite writers and reporters so I never miss their work. It is helpful to read reviews that offer adult criticisms or high praise, and I like reading people’s insights on various issues.

But the trolling is ridiculous and not even a little bit funny. And, trust me, I know all about not being funny.

I know it all too well.