The Thing We Can’t Say

Social media is a dangerous space. When one talks about “safe spaces” on our college campuses and various villages, they certainly aren’t talking about the digital world – where aggressive agenda-setters live to ruin the lives of others and complicate the simple.

A colleague of mine recently related a frightening story about good intentions gone bad by one person trying to help the community, only to nearly have their life upended by the posting.

So many people revel in taking what is said out of context for the purpose of creating false controversy. It truly is an online epidemic.

Seems a few kids are terrorizing one of the downtown neighborhoods, and police are on the lookout for their little operation. They’re breaking into cars or something and causing mischief and petty thievery. It’s the same thing that’s been happening for an eternity in the city.

But still, it’s good intel to have when something of the sort is happening in the neighborhood.

Apparently a police report was quoted on social media with descriptions of the three youths, and that included their race as an identifier with other pertinent information for folks to look for. That erupted into a firestorm on social media, with various folks sounding off about why race had been included. There were organizations we’ve all heard of that pounced upon it, challenging it. An entire vitriolic discussion ensued and the point of the matter, which was an alert for organized thievery by some mischievous youths, was entirely missed.

And things like that can build up, and they are there for the world to see, and real names are attached with little explanation about what occurred. There is no face to face contact, so no one can get a proper message across. While it didn’t happen in this case, some people in the same situation have been flagged by their employers – or questioned by their organizations and boards.

While I’m more street than library, I’ve got that Boston sneaky genius under a thick layer of skin. As such, I read novels, and not the dime-store kind.

All of the above reminds me of a great novel by Milan Kundera called ‘The Joke.’ In that work, the main character is at a university at the height of the Communist Revolution in Eastern Europe. He drops a postcard in the mail to a friend, with a joke written on it about the Revolution. It was an afterthought in a small moment of a much larger lifetime. The little comment is seized upon when authorities get ahold of the card, and a board at the University throws him under the bus to the Communists. For his little joke on the back of a 5-cent postcard, the character earns a lifetime of hard labor in Siberia.

How much different are we on social media? In many cases, like the above story, not much.

Most all of us are well-meaning people; none of us want to hurt the other or demean our fellow neighbors. But the times are that we don’t know what to say to one another anymore. If we say the wrong thing, Lord knows what the consequences might be. So many of us just hang it up and stop talking to people, especially if they might be unlike us. It’s just not worth the risk.

Even the media is anxiety-ridden on this.

There are no more descriptions or identifiers given.

This week, there was a broad-daylight shooting on the Parkman Bandstand and one of the alleged shooters was at-large in the city. We heard he was a male, but nothing further – though the police had certainly put out more information. We did get the color, make and model of the scooter though.

It was a similar thing for the Cambridge attacker last week, and I’ll leave it at that.

And this is why social media is dangerous. Everyone is on the attack, but none of them will ever look you in the eye.

You can be ruined by one small comment that meant no harm, and yet one will never have the benefit of even knowing their adversary. It’s simply someone, somewhere typing on a phone or computer about a person they likely don’t know or have never spoken with face-to-face.

Yes, social media is a dangerous place. It’s no safe space.

And the ultimate downfall of this emerging technology could soon be its very own devoted users.

For me, I’ll take a handshake over a ‘Like’ any day.

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