"I say we give him to ISIS."
That was a comment that came through my Facebook news feed this week in response to a posting about Kanye West's most recent behavior at the Grammy Awards. I was stunned to say the least. I could feel the space between my eyes knit together as I squinted to read the words again, thinking maybe I had misread. I hadn't misread. That opening line is a direct copy/paste from my news feed.
When are we going to stop vomiting comments like the above without thinking about what we're saying? Unless you've been living under a rock you know that ISIS, an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is a jihadist rebel group. They're extremists, terrorists who are torturing and killing (often by beheading) if they don't get what they want. Do you think for one-second the mother of any of those tortured and/or murdered by members of this group would find that comment in the least bit funny? It's insensitive from first thought to actual posting.
There is no humor in even joking about giving someone to ISIS. No humor whatsoever! Words are powerful. We have to stop and think before we speak, and think even more before we type. We have to be aware of what we're saying, what we're putting out into the world.
We feel so empowered when we're sitting behind the screens of our computers or smartphones -- reading headlines, status updates, and tweets -- to comment any way we want. We can be positive, but we can also be negative. Oh, so negative. We feel authorized to give our opinions no matter who we might offend or who we might hurt in the process. "Internet trolls" is the slang term commonly used to describe people who use negative comments to stir up trouble. The internet is full of them, hiding behind their keyboards, poised to rip into and tear down anyone and anything they choose. It's as if they feel there is no retribution for their actions. There may even be some trolling on this very piece.
Don't think for a second that I'm not also pointing a finger at myself, that I'm not looking at my own reflection. I've long tried to be aware of what I'm saying especially since I started contributing to HuffPost and publishing my thoughts, rants, and opinions on my blog, I Am Michael, Hear Me Rohrer. I don't always win the battle. I have a fiery temper sometimes and can fly off the verbal handle.
Never do I feel all the synapses of my temper fire more than when I read hateful, anti-gay comments. I feel provoked to defend. But I feel I'm logical enough in my kick-back to make statements that are thought provoking instead of just negative and nasty for negative's sake. Sometimes harsh words need to be spoken, but the words of the quoted comment that opened this piece aren't even harsh. They're insensitive. I am not trying to shame the poster, but instead want to draw attention to the comments that leave our control the minute we send them into cyber space. I should say here that the comment in question was made by someone that I know, but who long ago, for whatever reason, deleted our Facebook friendship. I saw the comment because it was made on the post of a friend we share in common. I know this person and can't imagine they actually meant the words literally. But what if I was a stranger? Just because we post or tweet to our friends doesn't mean that our friends are the only people who are going to see it. Someone who doesn't know us, doesn't get our sense of humor may see it and BAM! It's spinning and you can't stop it.
I don't always keep myself in check when I see those referred to anti-gay comments that provoke me. I get angry. I know that I should calm down before commenting, or maybe not comment at all. I have often lost the struggle to just take a second and think, breathe, before putting my fingers to the keys and hitting send. I try to use my words to draw attention to the bigotry or hypocrisy of the comments I'm criticizing, but I don't always think before I respond. That has led to my own insensitive, fly off the handle comments.
Words are powerful. To say (even in a comment that one may think is just a joke), "I say we give him to ISIS," one is not thinking about the power of words. Would you really want to give someone to ISIS? Even someone you dislike? Look, we have the capability to skip a song if we don't like the artist, change the channel if we don't like the program, stop reading the article if we don't like the content. If we feel the need to comment we have to have the intelligence to think about what we're saying. Yes, I know we have freedom of speech in this country, and I'm thankful for that, but these comments made on social media live on forever and are a constant reflection on us. Just ask Justine Sacco. She can tell you first hand how an ill-conceived tweet can turn into a life changing experience.
The internet is a powerful tool for getting our ideas, thoughts, music, videos, etc., out into the world. But it shouldn't be a place where we just let our fingers do the typing with a total disconnect from what we're saying. There's a reason "Dear John" letters are easier than breaking up in person. We feel more freedom to say in a letter something that we might not have the courage to say in person. I understand that. And there's truth to finding more courage in written rather than spoken words. I have found courage in writing words. But I'm also learning to take the time to read those words (over and over) before I put them out into the world.
"I say we give him to ISIS" is, to me, a disturbing comment. One maybe thrown into the commentary as a joke to get a rise. It got one out of me. I shook my head at the insensitivity of the comment and can only hope I learn from how I felt after reading it to be even more conscientious of what I'm saying when I'm trying to make a point or draw attention to some injustice, discrimination, hate speech, etc., in the world. I don't want to be a troll, and I don't see myself as such. I want to inspire intelligent discussion not cater to the lowest common denominator by falling victim to my own thoughtless comments.