If you spend a significant time on the Internet like I do, it’s easy to come to the same conclusion that Mr. Longfellow does in the above quote.
I do not deny that there are a lot of amazingly talented and smart and accomplished people out there in cyberspace. I also do not deny that many of these same people are damaged goods, whose hearts and minds are in need of healing and perhaps some clinical intervention.
Despite their brokenness, they have a right to form online communities, express themselves and band together to advance shared beliefs, an agenda or a cause.
What they don’t have the right to do is be disrespectful and flat-out crude, rude and socially unacceptable to other people who simply have a differing opinion.
Nor does one’s right to freely express oneself give anyone the right to drown out dissenting voices via blaming and shaming. For those of us who have any degree of insight to the human condition, people who engage in blaming and shaming tactics are seen as doing this to camouflage their own prejudices, blind allegiances and personal shortcomings.
I must confess. There is something seductive and strangely gratifying about being able to craft an online persona, to move anonymously from forum to forum, bashing and hating on others without anyone having a clue who you are and what kind of baggage you tote around.
But occasionally, we come across some stranger online who writes something so brutally honest, perceptive and brilliantly insightful, that their words seem to cut through our bullshit. Their words seem to peer directly into the depths of our souls.
We hope to goodness that this person doesn’t really know what we know about ourselves, and most of the time they don’t. We know this but we feel like we‘re being exposed, stripped bare and put on display.
But before we’ll ever admit to being found out, we lash out. We go on the defensive. And if we’re lucky, we’ll ring the alarm so that a whole bunch of other broken people can cosign our online temper tantrums or our irrational and hate-filled rants where we make generalizations about people we don’t like or people we don’t care too much about because one person brought the truth to our doorstep and it made us squirm. And if we’re really good, we can get that person banned or their blog or website shut down.
Sadly, the Internet has reached a tipping point. Perhaps it’s a reflection of what’s gone wrong with society in general these days. I’m not quite sure.
But I do believe that the time for honest self-assessment is upon us, and maybe one day, we’ll show Mr. Longfellow to be wrong as two left shoes. I hope this day is sooner than later, because the Internet is beginning to seem like it’s in desperate need of a root canal. Or maybe an enema or a colonic.
What sayeth you? Do you think that there are corners of the Internet that have devolved into a cesspool of hateful groupthink ? Has truth-telling on the Internet gone underground? And if so, why do you think this is?
Speak your piece.