A sad thing happened in the hamlet next to ours. Two nights ago, in Berkeley, one of those little apartment balconies you see hanging off the sides of buildings collapsed under the weight of 14 revelers, killing 6 and injuring another dozen or so. They were all Irish work-visa kids affiliated with UC Berkeley, celebrating someone’s 21st birthday. It was truly a tragic accident. And in true internet fashion, the threads have been quick to heap blame on the victims for being “stupid enough to all be piled onto a balcony” [so they got what they deserved] to “I hope their families sue whatever shoddy contractor was responsible for construction on that building” [they should rot in hell].
I mean seriously, there was nary a nanosecond to digest this tragedy before the negative cocksuckers were out in force tsk-tsking and wagging their forked tongues. Jesus, when did we move from being an empathetic society—a society where, as a group, we feel genuine sympathy and caring for what victims and their families must be going through in times of grief—to one where it is so utterly necessary to assign blame, to get positively red-faced and shaking at the thought of someone paying for what is often just an unfortunate accident?
What is it that drives us now to finger-point, blame-heap, rock-throw, and crucify others (often the victims themselves) in the face of something horrible like a balcony collapse, a hurricane, a rockslide, a house fire, a disease outbreak, or any other one of the countless tragedies that simply befall humans across the planet every day?
The same fucking culprit that’s to blame for every other failing in society these days. Y’all know I’m fixin’ to say the Internet, don’t you? God love the World Wide Webs and all the knowledge it delivers to our doorsteps each and every day, but mostly it is Satan’s butthole, spewing forth bad news, hatred, ugliness and, if we’re lucky, occasionally, videos of cats and baby pandas. Oh fine, here you go.
But it’s the same Internet-generated mentality that allows rapey fraternity fuckboys to post pictures of passed out naked girls and pimply-faced, basement-dwelling redditors to fat-shame unsuspecting overweight girls that spurs what might be otherwise good people to jump into a hive mentality and start piling blame on the victims in public forums.
You see, it seems as though everyone secretly wanted to be a Heather in high school. And with the internet, now they have their chance. With zero repercussions. Say your hurtful thing and get out. No one will be the wiser.
We have a local newscaster in the Bay Area whose personal Facebook page is very popular. I follow him, and on Memorial Day, he posted a moving story about a woman with an infant who lost her husband in Iraq. I’d never once posted a comment on his page because if it’s one thing I’ve learned after spending years trolling the Internet is never post a comment in a public forum. But my comment was super innocuous, so I figured “Why not?” I wrote “It would be nice if politicians would stop sending young men and women off to war to die.” A nice wish for Memorial Day, no? Let’s stop creating more dead soldiers, yes?
Dear lord. You would have thought I posted a picture of myself taking a shit on a soldier’s grave with a dead bald eagle in my mouth while wiping my ass with the American flag. The hatriots came out in full force to call me all kinds of unsavory names, telling me how thankful I should be to all those dead soldiers that I even have the right to talk such blasphemy on this grieving dead widow’s Facebook page. (Never mind that it wasn’t her page, it was the newscaster’s page, but logic has never been a strong suit of the foaming-at-the-mouth ‘Murica types.)
For about three days, I got sucked into this stupid thread because of course I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the notifications, and so it kept popping up in my Facebook feed. And so I kept reading these tirades against me from seriously misinformed and just downright STUPID people that I had to force myself not to respond to because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. But I would walk around for those three days furious, composing replies in my head to their misguided arguments. It consumed me. I took it with me everywhere I went and let it spoil my days and make me furious at people in real life. I scowled, my pain levels were up. I didn’t feel like doing anything or being around anyone. Why should I? People sucked.
My point is, the way we behave on the Internets takes its toll on us IRL whether we think it does or not. Whether it’s getting on some thread after a tragedy and heaping blame on a bunch of kids for standing on a balcony and smoking so you can feel morally superior to them—(“God, what were they thinking, cramming 14 people on that tiny balcony! Stupid wankers! I NEVER would have been that idiotic when I was 19!”)—or fat-shaming a 12-year old with weight issues, or sharing a video on Facebook of a drunk girl passed out at a party with your mean comments attached, or piling hate on someone for wishing that war were a thing of the past, or just piling hate on anyone whose opinion differs from yours, or even ripping a celebrity to shreds for wearing something ugly, this “Mean Girls mentality” takes a little piece of us each time we do it, y’all. We take it away from our fingertips and our monitors and carry it forth into the world, and it affects how we see and interact with people in our daily lives.
And I get it. It’s fun, it’s easy, and if you’re good at it, people will laugh at your wit. If stupid people weren’t there to shame, if celebrities weren’t there to mock, what would we do for a laugh? I do it all the fucking time. I need to put down the stones and pick up the Windex in my glass house, fo sho. Because I’m realizing the more I do it, the more it dehumanizes others, and the more it dehumanizes me. Then I walk around in this world with less empathy for people. And the less empathy I have, then I just start acting IRL like I do on the Internet—like any old asshole who can say and do whatever she wants without a thought to how it will affect those around me.
And I think society has enough of those people already, don’t you?