Angry comments on social media breed hostility, not change

Kati Gardella, Crier Staff

We are caught in the aftershocks of seemingly unending tragedy in our country amidst a tense political climate. Many citizens feel hopeless and confused, and as a result are lashing out online, especially in the comments section.

I’ve written about deindividuation many times before, and how internet usage breeds feelings of bravery and anonymity. People say things online thar they would not say directly to another human in person.

Fighting with words may provide a temporary emotional outlet, but results in nothing but more hostility.

It is rare that individuals who are engaged in a virtual fight will reach a consensus. They typically just fire off insults at one another until one of them gets bored, or till they reach the last resort of merely going through and correcting the other person’s grammar passive-aggressively.

In some cases, the angry comments have nothing to do with what was actually posted online.  An example of this that really struck a nerve with me was on the Facebook page of U.S. Senator Susan Collins.

A high school student from my town who is on the Unified Basketball team of our local high school traveled to Washington DC along with the coach of the team to meet with Senator Susan Collins in honor of the fifty-year anniversary of the creation of Special Olympics.

The Unified Basketball team is an amazing community opportunity where those who are in special education play basketball with typically developing students. The bond of the team is so strong and the love and support they show to each other is truly inspiring.

Senator Collins herself is very active in the Maine community, and for years has served as a feminist role model, especially for girls who have an interest in politics. I heard from the coach and the student that Senator Collins was  very engaging and supportive during their meeting. They were very grateful for the opportunity of the trip, and overall had an amazing time.

Senator Collins also wrote a caring message on her public Facebook page about the meeting and celebration of the Special Olympics.

It is very disheartening that the top comments on the post were not praising the Special Olympics, or recognizing how many adults and children had their lives positively impacted by the organization.

Instead of taking the opportunity to appreciate a remarkable example of positivity in the country, they immediately turned it back to negativity. Gun control was completely irrelevant to the post, however, requests for better gun control dominated the comments feed, and seven people left “angry” reactions on the overall post.

I don’t care to repeat the more graphic comments blaming Senator Collins for a lack of substantial gun control, but to illustrate how inane the comments became, I present this fragment of the very first comment on the post:

“Your disregard for our disabled is clear simply because you are a Republican. You are once removed from your President (Putin’s Asset) who mocks them publically [sic].”

Saying that Susan Collins is abelist just because she is a Republican is against the values of social justice, as it generalizes an entire political party based on one individual.

It is logically inappropriate to use President Trump as an example and state that since he is a Republican and did so and so, every Republican affirms his actions. Many in the Republican party do not support Trump or agree with his actions.

The commenters were extremely insensitive. They did not stop to consider how the student or the coach whose pictures were featured in the post would feel about their extremely harsh, violent, and accusatory words.

I understand why the commenters are upset, but they should not have chosen that specific post to vent. Upon scrolling, I found this thoughtful comment that encapsulated my reaction to the previous comments.

“I am saddened by the comments that detract from [the student’s and the coach’s] hard work and achievements. I applaud both ladies and tell you that I am so very very proud of both …. and for the many, many Olympians you represent. Keep the faith, Ladies, not all of us will channel this in a direction unintended.”

I am a strong advocate for change and for social justice, however simply posting angry comments online does absolutely nothing.

A much better example of virtual social activism is those who used social media to organize peaceful protests and walkouts.  Actions such as these breed positive change. I greatly admire how respectful administrators and faculty of the school were about the walkouts, and how supportive students were.

Respect and support produce successful social justice. Anger is a natural human reaction to injustice, but if you act purely out of anger, you are only causing more hurt.

Show solidarity and support, instead of misdirected anger (in this case, towards Senator Collins’ public support of the Special Olympics).

As a final note, I would like to reiterate how proud I am of my hometown’s Unified Basketball team and to congratulate them for not only their amazing season, but the lifelong friendships that they have formed. The team is a clear example of unity and of a positive future.