The joke’s up: When careless words go too far

According to BBC News, Justin Carter, at age 18, was arguing with a fellow gamer on a public Facebook wall. After being called mentally disturbed, Carter wrote the following:

"I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten
And watch the blood of the innocent rain down
And eat a beating heart of one of them."

Carter insists that this was only a joke, but an anonymous tip resulted in a home search and arrest. He is still in prison after five months because he cannot afford the $500,000 bond for his release.

In another instance, British citizen Reece Elliot found a monumental Facebook wall for a Tennessee student killed in car crash and filled it with abusive posts and even threatened to open fire at a local elementary school. Once again, it was meant as a joke, but he admitted guilt and was charged for eight counts of grossly offensive messages and one threat to kill.

As the article notes, while people admit these jokes were in "poor taste," some didn't see them as very serious.

"He does things for a laugh on Facebook — that's what he does," said Elliot's girlfriend.

"His comment was facetious. It was also rude and inappropriate. But they were trash talking," said Don Flanary, Carter's lawyer. "It's no different than what goes on in playgrounds and basketball courts and streets and neighborhoods all the time."

Should talk like this be brushed aside as mere "trash talking" or something done "for a laugh"? After all, disparaging remarks like those posted by Carter and Elliot aren't isolated incidents. Careless and outright abusive language is a growing trend in online dialogue.

Matthew 15:18 says "what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart." Yesterday during his visit to Lampedusa, Pope Francis indicated a deeper problem like this in his homily about what he called the "globalization of indifference."

Pope Francis said we live in a society where our neighbor "is no longer a brother to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life, my well-being."

As Christians, we are called to love one another, especially when it's difficult. And yet, we can treat one another so callously. How do we change our hearts so that love and respect, and not hate, proceeds from it?

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.