After Kyle Williams fumbled the ball in the 49ers game, he received thousands of insults and even death threats, such as the message “I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die you deserve it [sic].” Another person wished Kyle had died in his sleep on Sunday night, before the game. What a foul heap of abuse from people who probably can’t even run around their own block. I wish every one of them could have been put in Kyle’s position.
When did we start wishing death on our fellow Americans? I think it started with Sarah Palin whipping up the frenzied masses against Obama. People in her crowd would yell “kill him!” and she would just giggle. According to The Telegraph, “The Secret Service warned the Obama family in mid October that they had seen a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the Democratic candidate, coinciding with Mrs. Palin’s attacks.” Thanks a lot, Sarah, for cheerfully dragging this country into the gutter.
Recently a friend did a blog post on the disrespect that is now routinely shown to the President of the United States (http://www.findcatharsis.com/2012/01/respect-obama-state-union/). Just yesterday the newspapers were filled with the photo of the Governor of Arizona wagging her finger in the President’s face.
I am mourning the death of respectful discourse. It is no longer possible to have a polite exchange of ideas. If you disagree with someone, they call you names, verbally rip your head off, and worse. The smallest disagreement becomes a conflagration. On the Internet, where people hide behind anonymity, the insults and threats go completely unchecked. There is no line in the sand. No far is too far.
Not long ago I pointed out on Amazon that someone was mistaken about one of the site’s policies. This person called me a liar and threatened to write me up on a web site called “Authors Behaving Badly.” I have worked very hard for many years to earn a good reputation, so this was serious stuff - and it made no difference that my accuser was dead wrong!
On Facebook, I disagreed with someone who is supposedly a publishing professional, but who was unaware of the current style for typing up manuscripts to submit to publishers. (In case you’re interested, type ONE space after each period, not two!) She “unfriended” me with a flourish, saying that she was entitled to say whatever she liked on her page (accurate or not, I guess), and that I was “antagonistic, argumentative, egotistical, mean-spirited, angry, derisive, and hostile.” Wow.
Now, I am an easygoing person, so these accusations are just silly. They say more about the accuser than they say about me. But just think about the subject. Is there ANYONE out there who could be so venomous on the subject of … typing? Why do people feel the need to unleash the hounds of hell over such trivial issues?
After 30 years in publishing, I know when I’m right. I’m not going to apologize for being correct. It actually bothers me when others pass along misinformation and confuse new writers who are just starting out. It makes me uncomfortable to stand by idly while all kinds of bad information gets passed around. On the other hand, if I get involved, I’ll get flamed.
It also bothers me when people who do not know me presume to pass judgment on my character or my work. But it never pays to feed the trolls. They just send out the word to their troll buddies and pile on. So is it preferable to defend yourself when people say heinous things about you - or to do nothing?
If we all continue to do nothing whenever a death threat is made, or misinformation is spread, or a professional reputation is called into question, these things will just happen more and more. People will be as horrible as they like - which, as we’ve all seen, is horrible beyond horrible - because there are no consequences.
Somehow we need to raise the level of discourse back up to at least an acceptable level - something above “you’re fat” and “you suck.” We should be exchanging ideas and information, not insults. Get it together, America. As Ben Franklin said during the first American Revolution, “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”