It's all too easy to think of the Twitterverse as a place of virtual anonymity and that those 140-characters-or-less tweets don't mean much in the real world. And while that's perfectly fine when you want to tweet about your undying love for Harry Styles, Twitter trolls also have a permanent place under this social media bridge, and their comments aren't nearly as friendly, and all too often they get away with their virtual harassment. Of course, not everyone is so keen to let these trolls off with an eye roll. Former baseball star and proud dad Curt Schilling did something brilliant when his daughter was harassed online and reminded us all about what it means to be a decent human being - online and off.
Here's what happened: Last Monday, Curt congratulated his daughter, Gabby, on getting accepted into college where she'll be playing softball. A string of Twitter replies followed, and while most were congratulatory, others weren't so kind. Several Twitter users responded with lewd and sexually explicit comments, probably under the assumption that they were cloaked by the anonymity of the internet. Instead of letting the comments go, the former MLB player fought back - and exposed the trolls' real identities on his blog. The people behind the tweets, many of whom were college athletes, were publicly humiliated - to which I say, awesome. Here's what Curt wrote:
If I was a deranged protective dad I could have been face to face with any of these people in less than 4 hours. I know every one of their names, their parents, where they go to school, what they do, what team they are on, their positions, stats, all of it. I had to do almost nothing to get ANY of that information because it is all public.
What part of talking about a young woman, my daughter or not, makes you even consider the possibility that this is either funny or makes you tough?
Social media is a part of our lives, and unlike real life, it's tough to avoid awful people. We may not always be able to control what other people say, but we can set a standard for online communication that matches the one we have for ourselves in real life. I doubt any of these guys would have said the horrible things about Gabby to her face, and if they had, I'm sure someone would think twice about their comments. Why should that change when we see the same words written out online?
As Schilling proved, anyone can be found on social media, but even if they couldn't be identified, it's our social responsibility to not be, well, awful. This isn't just a "celebrity" problem - online harassment is a huge issue in today's world, and as we know from the tragic string of cyber-bullying related suicides, it has consequences outside of the internet. We need to do better as a whole, no matter if we think our name and face will be associated with our mean message or not.