DeFrates column: Take responsibility for your piece of the internet
Where we choose to live our lives says a lot about us. Residents of a valley like ours are determined and independent. We are willing to put up with frequent highway closures, working on holidays and generally struggling to make ends meet in order to access abundant jobs or outdoor opportunities. We work hard to find community and create positive culture, and do our best despite the challenges.
Recently, however, there has been a mass migration. A huge percentage of our population has been spending a great deal of time in this new locale, creating identity and connections there every day. You may have seen people visiting this place around the table at restaurants, in their cars, or on the bench at the park. You most likely have family there, and perhaps enjoy sharing photos with friends.
We send our children there when they are bored, we take scrolling vacations when we are stressed, and we build up echo chamber islands around ourselves.
The Internet is nice this time of year, right?
Some of us love it for the cat videos, the pictures of grandkids and the local news. We try to stay in the “nice” neighborhoods where people only say things with which we agree and we only share inspirational quotes. We definitely don’t visit those sketchy areas known as the comments sections because the things we’d read there would really ruin our morning. I’ve personally advocated for this type of behavior in a previous column called ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls.’
Unfortunately, the trolls are getting nastier, spreading contagious ignorance, and even infiltrating the local groups and newspaper articles. While trolls used to primarily enjoy personal attacks and rude remarks, their tastes have recently broadened to include racist attacks on kids, families and neighbors in our community. Wherever you roam in Internet land, it’s time to draw the line.
If you don’t believe me, or you think it doesn’t matter, consider the following example. During the Post Independent’s livestream of the “Home is Here” protest in front of Glenwood Springs High School a few weeks back, I was heartbroken to read line after line of racist, cruel and ignorant comments.
“ICE— now is a good time to show up” was just one example of the aggressive and hateful comments which scrolled across the screen. Those comments appeared on the feed in order, viewable to all who were following, including the students, and the message was disgustingly clear: Racism is thriving in local Internet land like bacteria under day-old sushi.
While it’s laughable to imagine where people like that would be without the Internet, the unfortunate reality is that their voices are now amplified well above the couch in their parents’ basement or the lonely bar stool.
A person don’t have to agree with our current immigration policies to know that saying things like that to hurt children is a cowardly and sad way to live. Vote how you like, but understand the difference between people and policies.
Does what people say on the Internet matter, though?
According to recent studies, American adults spend at least an hour every day living in that place, and the younger generations even more. The place that doesn’t exist is having a tremendous influence on how people perceive the world.
To begin to reclaim the culture of this strange world, consider speaking positively whenever you read or see something you agree with. If you don’t want to get involved, but can’t stay silent about something you just read, respond with a simple “no,” and then turn off notifications for the comment. It will not change the mind of the person posting, but it will demonstrate to the individuals being attacked that they are not alone.
Again, discussions about policies and laws do not equate to hatred, and cutting off ties with people who do not agree with you doesn’t help either.
As humans, we internalize negative comments so much faster than positive ones. It’s a defense mechanism that directly works against us these days. When directed at high schoolers, at families and at our neighbors, those comments seem to hit so much harder. Letting ideas like that fester for hours without contradiction can even be dangerous, making the ignorant bolder and the marginalized even quieter.
It is time to take responsibility for our little tiny piece of real estate on the Internet. Don’t feed the trolls with a pointless argument that gives them the only thing they crave — attention — but contradict them and move on for the benefit of those reading silently.
If the comments section does ruin your morning, I’m sorry. But if you are someone who doesn’t yet feel attacked by this shifting culture, then it is your privilege and responsibility to stop the movement anywhere you see it happening.
Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at http://www.roaringforkwriter.com.
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