Why We Get Things So Wrong on Social Media

“Freedom is not about doing what you want, when you want it. It’s about the ability to do the right thing at any given moment.”

The words that the seminarian/almost-priest said in the homily this past Sunday hit me like an electric shock.

“Think of the best person at anything you can think of. Maybe Lebron, or Michael Jordan, or maybe Pavarotti singing. Think of when they’re doing the best of their best. It’s almost unbelievably easy for them. That’s freedom.”

I had no idea what he was talking about at first. It was completely counterintuitive to everything I had always thought about the word freedom.

“What if freedom was doing what you wanted, when you wanted? What if Lebron thought, ‘I’m gonna come in from the right, but I think I’ll just lay it up with my left hand?’ Or what if Pavarotti thought, ‘When I sing that High-C note, I won’t relax my throat. I’m just going to belt it out.’ How successful do you think they’d be? They have the freedom to do what they want on the court or in the concert hall by standing on the top of the mountain of work they’ve put in to attain their freedom.”

And then he dropped the bomb.

“The truth is that if you think freedom is just doing what you want, when you want it, more than likely it’s just you giving in to the temptation of the action.”

Giving. In. To. The. Temptation. That… is not freedom; that… is being a prisoner to temptation.

As he said the words, it reminded me of the Nathan Phillips/Covington Catholic fiasco… or more specifically, the rush to judgment. I’m not going to get into the “who was in the right” of the whole situation, but it’s clearly easy to see who got it wrong, at least initially: virtually everyone.

Celebrities, no-names, news organizations, men and women, the fervently religious and proudly atheist alike, and virtually every nationality under the sun. One person who really got to me was actor and comedian Kathy Griffin. This is the person who wrongfully had her entire future put in jeopardy for simply posting what was a wildly inappropriate but hardly illegal satirical photo of her holding a severed Donald Trump-mannequin head.

She lost work, endorsements, credibility, and was subjected to some of the most vitriolic hatred you can imagine. She apologized profusely, and I think she really meant it. Some people didn’t care. They were out for her head… no pun intended.

After the initial video was released of the smirking/smiling Covington Catholic student, Kathy Griffin, herself the target of unrelenting vitriol, unleashed some of her own. One tweet (which as of this writing is still up) reads in part, “Name these kids. I want NAMES. Shame them. If you think these f#%$ers wouldn’t dox you in a heartbeat, think again.” (For clarity, to dox someone means to publicly identify personal information, such as a name, home address, and phone number for the intent of intimidation and retribution.)

Even though not absolved from being typical jerky kids here and there, the story was completely and utterly wrong, when a truer picture with actual footage of everything came out the next day.

This whole thing reminds me of the movie All the President’s Men. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, through painstaking journalistic work, spent months working on a story that was not only devastating politically, but more importantly… accurate. They had info that they could have kept leaking, but they had the courage and fortitude to make sure it was right.

None of that seems to exist anymore, and I think I may have a theory why. As the internet grew up, we grew up with it. And as the speed of information became instantaneous, it opened up what many perceived as a new freedom to report information in real time. In the process, truth gave way to speed. The general public (and the press is firmly included in this) got lazy when it came to the facts of a story, and now a picture (and especially video) took the place of actual investigative journalism.

Throw in the fact that hate for your opponent seems to be en vogue at the moment, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Which takes us back to what freedom is perceived to be… and what it actually is. Lebron and Luciano are free to be great because of the work they put in, the practice they endured, and possibly most importantly, the education they were given.

Who here, reading this right now, has ever been given a crash course in what NOT to say on the internet? Ever taken a class? Ever been instructed on what’s right and wrong? I’d be willing to say that over 95% of us have never attended a lecture on the do’s and you-really-shouldn’t-do’s of online etiquette.

Let’s see if we can put a dent in that.

1. My friend Wayne Elsey always says, “Never make a snap decision without sleeping on it.” That is phenomenal advice. Usually, an angry tweet or a call to dox someone is usually made in haste. Let it matriculate a night before you try to ruin someone’s life.

2. Think of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you would never want to be doxed, don’t dox someone, or call on your followers to dox someone. Payback is a hell of a mistress, and she tends to come out at the worst possible time.

3. Picture your child, or your mother, and ask yourself, “What would they think of me writing this?” If there is something that you write that you would be embarrassed show to your child or your mother, then don’t write it. Ever. Period.

4. Be like Woodward and Bernstein, and the journalists of old. They never believed anything they couldn’t verify, and they made sure (more or less) that they not only had facts to back up their stories, but they actually made concerted efforts to get the sides of all parties involved. If you need a refresher, watch All the President’s Men.

And lastly, ask yourself if you like being unhappy, and if you don’t like it, might I suggest logging off for a bit. This past weekend was the first time I’ve been online for the past few days. In that time, I watched our sons play basketball, went to church, hung out on the couch and watched a movie with my wife, did a little video editing that elicited an amazing response from my client, and celebrated my mom’s 29th birthday… again. And truth be told, I’m happier than I’ve been in a week.

So ask yourself what freedom means to you now, and what you want it to mean to you going forward, and then take action. In the meantime, I’ll just be sitting in the corner recovering from my food coma… fat, and happy.

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Dan Duffy is a husband, dad, video producer, blogger, accidental activist, and author of The Half Book: He’s Taking His Ball and Going Home.

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Dan Duffy

Hi, I’m Dan. I’m a husband, dad, cancer survivor, video producer, author, accidental activist, and fan of all things lovely.