Online negativity

Several weeks ago I posted an article on my Facebook page concerning yet one more Christian who was targeted for his or her views. I can’t even remember exactly what the details were other than the story pertained to the issues of religious freedom and free speech, but I do remember the long and very vile response I received from someone commenting on the piece.

This person, not a regular Facebook follower, used it as an opportunity to attack me, the Church and anyone even slightly right of center in their views. I was called a bigot, a hate-monger and much worse. And it didn’t stop there. He was so irate he continued to post nasty comments about me and the Church all over my page and under items that didn’t even pertain to his original complaint.

His language became so vulgar and offensive that, although I hardly think it’s a good idea to ban those who strongly disagree with you, I had to block him from my page.

I remember feeling somewhat stunned at his level of anger and the number of sordid insults he was able to hurl at me and an entire Christian community in a matter of an hour or so. I didn’t give it much thought after taking steps to remove him from my page because, for someone out there in the public eye, this often comes with the territory. But it did remind me how easy it is for some people to explode online.

The bullying issue certainly has been front and center in the news over the past few years. Many of us know a family whose child has experienced bullying at some point in his or her life, but I wonder how many of us realize that it’s becoming more common among adults.

In its report, Online Harassment 2017, the Pew Research Center found that roughly 4 in 10 Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62 percent consider it a major problem.

“To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a ‘feature’ of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online or even pose a threat to their physical safety,” Pew researchers stated.

Of the more than 4,200 adults questioned, some 41 percent personally have been subjected to bad behavior online. The percentage jumps even higher to 66 percent of those who have seen these types of behaviors directed at others. Pew explains that included in the responses were those who said their experiences are limited to social media actions that can be ignored or shrugged off as a nuisance of life on the internet, such as offensive name-calling or attempts to embarrass someone — such as the person who decided to vent on my Facebook page.

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But Pew goes on to point out that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment, including being harassed or bullied over a sustained period of time. Others have received physical threats or been stalked.

Maybe I’m dreaming and putting far too much hope in the average person, but whether we’re talking about posts or tweets between teenagers or adults, I’m thinking it’s not exactly rocket science. It goes back to the basic Golden Rule of “do unto others,” and because so many of us have experienced some sort of harassment online already, maybe this will force us to stop and think before we put something not-so-nice out there in social media land — or anywhere else for that matter.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and SiriusXM Channel 130.