With the click of a button, you’re entire life (or at least your career) could be destroyed.
Don’t just take my word for it; consider the many stories of people who have learned the hard way that speech, though technically “free,” can sometimes have dire consequences.
Case-in-point: a former University of Tampa sociology professor who learned this lesson the hard way when he tweeted something unpalatable about Hurricane Harvey and was dismissed by the institution earlier this week.
“I don’t believe in instant karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas,” the professor apparently wrote in a recent tweet. “Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt care about them.”
He also reportedly said that any “good people” who voted for Trump should do more to “stop the evil their state pushes” and added, “I’m only blaming those who support the GOP there.”
That proclamation led to intense online furor, a national media story, death threats for him and his family and, ultimately, the loss of his professorial position at the university. He immediately backtracked, telling media outlets that he now wishes he had better stated his points.
“What they see in those tweets is not who I am,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “How I worded it was wrong. I care about people. I love this country. I would never want to wish harm upon anyone.”
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, he further expressed his regret, saying, “All of us, on both sides, need to understand that … what we say is forever. It’s so easy to type something and hit send. While you may mean it in one way…. with 140 characters, it’s difficult. We need to be more aware of what we say and how we’re saying it.”
I don’t doubt that he is telling the truth that I’m sure his tweet isn’t a true representation of who he is. I’ll surely have the grace to give him the benefit of the doubt (he said that his tweet was a badly worded critique of Trump’s stance on climate change), but, either way, what happened to him should be a warning to us all.
Like so many of us, he might have allowed his frustration or outrage to overtake him; at the least, he quite possibly became lazy and simply typed and sent his message on a platform that has ironically made some of us less social, more rhetorically lazy and, at times, more prone to vitriol.
In many ways the term “social media” has become an oxymoron, which is unfortunate.
As I said in my last op-ed about the reaction to Joel Osteen and his decision not to open Lakewood Church in the early hours of Hurricane Harvey, we are living in an outrage culture that, for whatever reason, appears to be incubating a toxic amalgam of viciousness, cluelessness and factless-ness laced with almost no intellectual curiosity.
And I’ll reaffirm: Too many of us stand at our Twitter and Facebook lecterns with virtually no facts backing our rants and with emotions and confirmation bias rabidly eating away at our credibility.
Unfortunately, there are consequences for our words. And with division and outrage continuing to intensify, we’re all prone to becoming the next person on the chopping block — unless we keep a firm watch over ourselves.
In the end, we must all take the professor’s apologetic advice: to watch what we say on social media.
The impersonal nature of these platforms empowers us to sound off, package a rancid scream into 140 characters (or less) and instantaneously react without being forced to look another person in the eye and acknowledge their humanity while we do it.
The reality is that some statements are and were meant to be restricted to the confines of our own minds. For some reason, the social media age is making us forget that fact.
Let the professor’s words ring true: “What we say is forever. It’s so easy to type something and hit send.” All of us should aspire to be decent, kind and respectful toward one another, even in our disagreements.
Once again, let’s be better.