05/08/2012 04:46 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2012

Twitter's Troubling Trending Topics

I love Twitter. I follow a plethora of news sources, writers, politicians, celebrities, comedians, friends, and like-minded individuals. I think of Twitter as an incredibly useful tool. Breaking news often surfaces on Twitter before many major news sources, who might be waiting for the full story, start reporting on it. People worldwide are able to express their thoughts and opinions on anything they feel passionately about. When something important happens, people talk about it. When enough tweets about a topic begin to appear, they sometimes become trending topics on the website. If you check out the trends in specific areas, you can find out what people all over the world are talking about. You will usually find news stories and current events among the trending topics. Sometimes, the topics of conversation are important and engaging. Often times there are countless tweets commemorating someone who has recently passed away. Every now and then, however, you will find topics that are disturbing and cruel.

I was shocked by what was trending on Twitter this morning. Trending topics included "If I Had A Gun" and "#FatPeoplePasswords." I don't think I need to go into why these topics are unsettling and distasteful. That should be obvious. What I find so disheartening is that these were the top two trends in the United States. Out of everything that is newsworthy, this is what people are choosing to talk about. I was happy to see that "Happy Teacher Appreciation Week" and "Mother's Day" were trending, although they only appeared briefly toward the bottom of the list.

I was pleased with the outrage surrounding the "#ReplaceBandNamesWithRape" trend that garnered so much attention last week. It seemed that articles denouncing the trending topic and corresponding tweets were pouring in just as fast as people attempting to be clever with their rape-inspired band names were tweeting. When people think that a trending topic like "#ReplaceBandNamesWithRape" is humorous, something isn't right. Would you joke about rape to someone who has been raped? Certainly not. Should you joke about rape at all? of course not, because it isn't funny. Sure, some might encourage me to lighten up or to not get bent out of shape over what they consider frivolous. Please consider that there are millions of people all over the world with Twitter accounts. You can bet that a lot of them are impressionable. They are, after all, only human. If they get the idea that countless users think something as horrific as rape is a laughing matter, they might start thinking that it is somehow less abhorrent of an act than it actually is.

Fortunately, not everyone who tweets about these topics is joining in on the "fun." There are users who bravely condemn what surprisingly few people consider crude trending topics. Unfortunately, by including a not-so-nice trending topic in a post, you are keeping it trending and thus unintentionally encouraging more offensive and harmful tweets to enter what some refer to as the "twitterverse." Since Twitter does not pre-screen their content, there is little that can be done about trending topics such as the ones mentioned above. If someone you know or follow (or anyone for that matter) tweets something that makes you uncomfortable, you can let them know without including the trending topic in your response. Luckily, these trends are just that -- trends. They'll come and go. In the meantime, tweet about something you are passionate about. There is no better way to get a topic trending than to take the initiative on your own.

For more on Twitter's safety and abuse policies, check out their support website.