My good friend Bushrod Sinclair wrote this piece after a tragic week in our community, made worse by a slew of "anonymous" Facebook posts laden with innuendo and gossip. Please to enjoy his wise take on having the courage of your convictions, even in print.
“A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants.”
- Mark Twain
Mr. Twain made that observation in the days of the Pony Express and the paddle steamer. We can only surmise what Mr. Twain would have thought of all the heartless tweets, posts and comments made anonymously in a 24-hour news cycle that can race around the world with the click of a mouse.
The tragic events of the past week in my community are hard to comprehend, and the families and friends of those we lost need our comfort and support. Their grief is beyond words.
In the midst of these tragedies, I was alarmed at the number of people who took to the local airwaves and websites with such animosity and ignorance simply to damage other people’s lives and reputations.
The ability to say or type anything — using rumor and innuendo as the only basis to support your “theory,” while hiding safely behind the veil of a user name — is nothing but cowardly. One could make the case that an anonymous post ranks right up there with the “poetry” scribbled on a bathroom stall. We must consider the source. But how do we do that if the source is concealed from us?
The Internet is a wonderful tool. We rely on it more and more for communication, education and information. And since rapidly evolving technologies often outpace the norms and ethics that must govern them (we didn’t need stop signs until we had cars!), our society finds itself wondering, as many of us did last week, if this is what technology, particularly social media, is intended for. It’s as if we tossed the village idiot the keys to a D-9 and then looked on and scratched our heads as he bulldozed over half the town.
|In 1981, Bushrod and my small hometown was astounded|
when an angry drunk climbed into a D-9 and smashed up cars
and an apartment building in a neighborhood near our school.
Almost as alarming as the anonymous comments are the responses. It is human nature to correct a mistake and right a wrong, but on the Net this just leads to an endless cycle of “Is too! Is not!” that escalates the hostility without ever resolving the issue. The local media can own up to this phenomenon as well by reducing the power they have given to “Anonymous,” whether it’s through their blogs and comments sections, or on their Facebook pages. They can regulate their audiences’ ability to post.
|Lesson learned: Never leave the keys in a D-9.|
How do we address all this? Remember: The keys to the D-9 are ours. The village idiot doesn’t need them, and we, as a community, can keep them safely in our pocket. What should happen is that people should leave the blue glow of their computers and get actively involved in this community — leave no doubt about who you are and what you have to say.
A good example would be the Field of Dreams project, which has been a hot topic for several months in our town. Some people opposing the project took to the worldwide web to voice their concerns and frustrations. It wasn’t until those folks showed up at the public hearing — stating their name and their case in full public view — that their opposition had a tangible, concrete presence. That’s a great civics lesson, because in this day and age it is far too dangerous to be silent or anonymous.
Your community deserves better, your government deserves better, and the families who face tragedy most certainly deserve better.
I would like to make a suggestion based on the Cowboy Code — which the State of Wyoming adopted in 2010, and as near as I can tell, anonymous posts defy at least half of the 10 stated codes, such as:
“Live each day with courage,”
“Take pride in your work,”
“Talk less and say more,”
“Remember that some things aren’t for sale,”
“Know where to draw the line,”
My suggestion: Get involved in your community by attending public meetings to show your support or opposition for the topics of the day, and if you’re going to make a public statement — whether it’s in print, radio or other media — use your full name. It is no secret that others in my community and I may disagree on an issue or two, but when we send in our letters to the editor, we both sign our names because we believe in what we say. Demand that your local media (and their listeners and subscribers) follow these guidelines as well.
P.S. I realize that Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens, but he was not hiding anonymously. We know who he was and what he stood for.
Like Twain, Bushrod goes by a pen name, but signed his first, middle and last name to this letter when he sent it to our paper. Setting the example, Bushie. I dig.