The internet should have made us smarter but instead it made us more cowardly. Courage has always been one of the least prolific traits in us humans. It’s why we are so moved by stories of heroism. While we all wish we could step up in moments of crisis or need and do the right thing, most of us know that it’s likely going to be someone else who does the heavy lifting because, for the most part, we lack the courage of our convictions.
As if this realization, and fact, isn’t dismaying enough, enter the potentiality of the internet. With the advent of social media, it became possible for cowards to wreak havoc from the quiet and safety of their own personal space…be that their office or their mother’s basement. Name calling, shaming, outing, verbally assaulting, accusing and spreading known falsehoods, (formerly called lying and recently identified as fake news) have become the coward’s creed. It’s all done without attribution; hence, anonymously.
Wanting and taking no credit, wanting and taking no responsibility cowards wreak havoc on a culture already vulnerable and fragile. We have become a nation of wizards, behind the figurative curtain, powerless in our own lives but still able to turn enough wheels, ring enough bells and generally make enough noise to delude ourselves that we are powerful in our own way and able to make a difference.
The only difference such people make is that with each anonymous attack or dissemination of knowing falsehood, they move us closer to the destruction of everything good and decent that we are capable of achieving. They feed their own inadequacies and insecurities by telling themselves they matter. After all, look at all the chaos they are able to create. As if negatively creating is the same as effecting positive change. As if there is no difference between evil and good.
I heard a true story about a visitor to Auschwitz, the German concentration camp, who spoke with an elderly woman who lived in one of the surrounding towns while the Nazi’s were cremating Jews within shouting distance. This particular woman had helped feed and hide Jews. When the visitor asked her “How did you suddenly become righteous in the midst of all the chaos” she replied, “Oh, the righteous didn’t suddenly become righteous. They just refused to go over the cliff with everybody else.”
Recently, I have been the object of falsehoods published about me at the community in which I live. The Board of Directors took it upon themselves to publish those falsehoods in an email to all the residents. Its their response to a difference of opinion. The statements are false and I have proof of it and so I will take appropriate action. After all, I’m a lawyer.
It is unlikely that twenty years ago, or maybe even ten, people would have been so quick to think you can just make facts up, or twist the ones that exist, and then publicly spread the lies. But, sadly, too many of have devolved into our lower selves. Conditioned by social media, we have taken up the banner of anonymity cloaking ourselves in a false sense of power and importance.
Our culture of anonymity is doomed to self-destruct. The Wizard of Oz is instructive. Eventually the curtains will be lifted, and the impotent cowards will be exposed for who they are. But in order for that to happen, we will need to reach a tipping point where enough of us refuse to go over the cliff with everybody else.
I’m standing securely on the edge watching the many go off the cliff. Where are you?