I'd like to share an unsettling experience I had that demonstrates just how ugly people can become when they are hidden behind the safety of an internet screen. The reason I share this is because I'm pretty sure this behaviour has become so common on the web that it is going to spill over into reality. So I give this as a warning to just how nasty people have become.
I attended the wedding of two friends. It was a lovely occasion and I was very happy to be there, which isn't always the case due to the excessive number of weddings I have attended. I'm talking dozens. As part of a habit I have picked up now, I tweet my way through the wedding. It is purely a mickey take thing, none of it should be taken serious and those who follow me on Twitter are very kind and complimentary. They enjoy it. In fact, after tweeting about this wedding, one girl asked if I would do it for her wedding.
Then I got a tweet off someone I have never met criticising it. Okay, people have a right to share their opinion. However, it did seem odd though that this person, who doesn't follow me on Twitter or even know me, decides to put the following criticism:-
"Judging by your tweets during the wedding, I'm glad that I didn't tune in. Tasteless, unfunny and borderline offensive at times."
The man in question didn't refer to anything specific, he just stuck with his sweeping statement. He said that I had portrayed it inaccurately, which was ridiculous because it wasn't a journalistic piece. Any moron with two brain cells could have grasped that. All that aside, I found it a little unsettling that someone would go to such an effort to be critical about something so trivial.
I thought dealing with one critical person was bad enough. Then came a crazy girl to make the moaning man insignificant by comparison. Again, someone I have never met before decided to take issue with one of my tweets but this was madness.
One of the tweets made a joke about people who take their screaming child and try to settle them down at the back of the chapel. Why any idiotic parent honestly thinks it is fine for us to put up with their kid's screaming while we try to sit quietly is beyond me. Maybe they are stupid enough to think that we can't hear them, even though it echoes around the room. Either way, it is as rude as taking a phone call in the cinema. Apparently there was a child at this wedding that was unsettled but I hadn't noticed. However, a family member of that child took issue with the joke, thinking it was a shot at her family members.
We are talking a guns-a-blazing approach. A generic joke that managed to apply to this loco lady's niece was treated like I had approved of the Holocaust, such was the venom she came at me with. I tried to calmly explain my comment wasn't aimed at her family member, it was just a joke and I even apologised for any distress caused. Frankly, I went overboard with my diplomacy, thinking that would put out any fire of her misplaced fury. I was wrong.
She continued to believe that I was a bad person, that the comment was about her family and that I thought of myself as the next Ricky Gervais. I don't. I'm not as talented and now I'm a lot fatter. Anyway, I got tired of repeating myself and just blocked her on Twitter. She wouldn't listen to me, even if God and His angels confirmed what I said was true. And that was the end of it, right? Wrong. She found me on Facebook to carry on her rant! Three lengthy messages telling me that I was inconsiderate of her family, accompanied with a personal attack on me. The funniest part of it was her telling me that she'd want a screaming child rather than a guy who thinks he is special. It was like she was saying "You'd never get with me" when the reality is, I would only want to meet the psycho cow if she was muzzled and in a strait jacket!
The problem here is perception and permission. It seems that it doesn't matter what you say, if someone takes it badly, whether that be the intent or not, you're going to have to put up with their abuse. Even worse, they don't need your permission to do it, just access to you. With social networks, that access is more readily available. There is nothing wrong with not liking something but going out of your way to criticise it seems odd unless it is truly irresponsible. For example, I don't find Jack Whitehall funny but I'm not going to litter his DVDs on Amazon with reviews of how I don't like him. I find Richard Dawkins rude in his rhetoric but I am not going to spam his book reviews with comments of how I feel. That is just crazy.
The crazy thing is that now we can be critical of anyone and anything. Online, that is an argument and strong words are as ugly as it can get. Once it spills over into reality, then we will have a problem and by then, it will be too late.