Today, April 1st, is April Fools Day. Sadly, this story is no joke.
One of the most disheartening aspects of today’s social media is the mass of persons whose sole purpose in life is to malign others. About two weeks ago I was on Twitter and saw a tweet from one of the people I followed, noting with alarm the amount of racism he was seeing from other people on Twitter that day. The tweet seemed innocuous enough, and I thought nothing of it. Towards the end of the day, however, I was checking Twitter again and it was clear that something had exploded, as the guy who posted the tweet was getting an avalanche of hateful and accusatory tweets being thrown at him. This immediately caught my attention. It didn’t make sense that a guy who had tweeted his concerns about racism was now being accused of being a racist himself, so I decided to wade into the fray and do some searching to see what had happened. A few days prior to the tweet, this same guy had done a status update on Facebook, wherein he had posted a brief video from the dashboard camera of his car. In the video, his car is waiting at a stoplight, and a teenage boy crossing the street flips off a passing police vehicle. Below the video the guy had written a short, two-paragraph statement in which he commented on some of the social issues facing young people in our society and pondered why he had not behaved that way when he was a teenager. I read through the whole post and I while I could see there was a generalization or two that could maybe be construed as questionable, nothing about it struck me as racist. Somebody, however, had taken this post, edited it to make it look like he had said blatantly racist things, and then posted it to Twitter. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for social media to take note of the edited image and then the onslaught began. Nobody bothered to check the source of the slanderous Twitter post or verify that the image was unedited. No, social media did one of the things it does best – automatically assume guilt and heap scorn upon any supposed wrongdoer. It took a day or two for the truth to finally come out and slander to be exposed. I was glad to see some people on Twitter apologize for their remarks, but I highly doubt that most of the people who piled on the hate had bothered to follow up on the situation, or even cared for that matter. There were still some people attempting to make accusations from the original Facebook post, and the guy did a few responses to them over the following days, though it was clear that the persons still on the attack were not particularly interested in reasoning with him. When the storm had died down, the guy who had been the victim of this social media assault announced that he was going to be curtailing his Twitter participation, as he had come to the conclusion that the platform had too many vitriolic individuals and he was wasting his time trying to interact with them. Worse still, the individual who created and posted the edited image that started this whole incident had the gall to claim that in fact he was the victim of slander. Internet trolls had again draw blood, another voice had been muffled, and once more a testament to the sheer gullibility of our supposedly enlightened modern society had been put on display.