Were you sitting there on the edge of your seat when the Zimmerman verdict was read and processed through the various annals of the Internet? Do you recall your moment or internal conflict? Did you talk about it online? Were you at work? Yeah, a good majority of us were.
I’m not going to open this up and scorch the Earth with hot item debates on who did what and who was guilty and how our justice system failed or served us because, well, what in the hell do I know? I’m just a person with the facts that were given to me and nobody needs another one of those articles in their lives. I’m not going to gloss over the chaos with a bit of sugary frosting either, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about what you and I did last week. This is about where you and I came in and we said some things we should’ve held in. Maybe you did. Maybe I didn’t. Regardless, wipe your brow and let’s figure this out, shall we?
Giving It All Away on Social Media in the Wake of the Zimmerman Verdict
I’ve written a dozen times or so about the power of keeping your emotions to yourself and knowing when to back away from your streams of consciousness, but what about in these situations? This isn’t a dead-on situation like with the Boston Bombing. There is no clear cut definition that anyone can point to and say, “this happened and it was horrifying and there is absolutely no damn excuse,” because right now the logic exists in gray areas with Zimmerman and Martin. While I carry very, very passionate thoughts on the topic, I had to sit back and watch as my fellow Internet users spread their hate and fear across every avenue available to them.
Some folks wanted to watch the world burn down to the ground and wrapped their fingers tightly around pitchforks and torches, white-knuckled and screaming about injustices that let people walk away as a child remained dead. Others wanted to point out that this kid was a future Tyler Durden and, if anything, Zimmerman did us a fucking favor by stalking his prey after being pounced upon and putting bullets into his body. There was hate on both sides and everyone was frothy and spitting from the vitriol as it came curdling from their fingertips and into the social consciousness melting pot.
When I scrolled through the search terms on TweetDeck, I found that a lot of very conservative folks with red, white, and blue laced accounts were clasping hands to their chest in relief as one less “hood” was put out of his misery. One such account was a woman posing with a gun, saluting to an American flag in her tight denim cut-off shorts and her cleavage pushed high. Admittedly, I wanted to believe the entire account was just meant to troll individuals, but it seemed she was marketing her brand around being the sexual chocolate of the conservative camps. Her entire feed was just drenched in conspiracy theories and hate speech and people retweeted and blew up her account like crazy. Surely she was met with some disdain, but the fact is: this kind of bullshit exists.
It’s not just on a conservative level, mind you. Even the liberals had their megaphones on the ready and I wasn’t innocent either. I had fear in my heart. I let it out, you know? I sat and watched and felt the cold tingle of dread sprawl its fingers up my spine as I feared a riot in Florida. My largest and most expressed concern was of that notion. I didn’t want to see passion turn into pain for the masses. I had witnessed the L.A. Riots during the Rodney King “situation” and I knew what happened when you took passion and blended confusion into the mix. I didn’t want to see it again. I hated it. I hated that the masses were taken from being huddled and hurt and turned into the enemy because nobody would actually be able to sit them down and say, “this is why you’re feeling this and this is what we can do to stop it,” and that’s because there is nothing one can do to sort that out.
How to Process Everything Responsibly in America After Zimmerman
Now that we’ve sorted out how we feel on these subjects and we can actually put our fingertips on the situation and what upset us in the first place, we need to know how to convey our feelings without putting the crosshairs on ourselves. For those of us in the workplace when these kinds of things go down, we’re automatically ready to take to the social media world and air out our grievances because we just need someone, anyone, to hear us and to let it be known that we’re okay or we’re not okay. It’s this chemical in our bodies that needs to be flushed, dumped, and jettisoned off of our internal spacecraft, and if we don’t, we feel we’re not being heard.
Someone’s going to see that.
Think about that, for just a moment or two. Are there people on your feed who could use your passionate discourse on politics or hot topic debates and think wrongly of you? Could that affect your job? Could it affect some aspect of your life negatively? Look, one could scream a thousand times “but this is my right! I can say what I want,” but that’s not realistic whatsoever in this day and age. If you’re trying to get a job and someone Googles (or Bings; don’t hurt me) your name to see that you’ve got this anarchist laced Twitter feed about taking down the establishment, you’re not getting that fuckin’ job, bro. Sorry. You’re not. There are times where, even with my clear statement of “these tweets are my own and not a reflection of my employer,” I have to pull back and not let it all out. It’s not because I’m feeling I can’t say what I want; it’s because sometimes what I want to say isn’t network ready and it needs to only air on paid cable between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. with heavy editing from an executive.
We can’t just always rely on those little notes. Sometimes we have to be held accountable for the things we say and it’s hard to do when you see the world falling at your feet and want to scream about it and what it means to you. I’ve taken the time to write about how people should self-censor their emotions online because of the audiences that we all have and I still feel that’s necessary here, but when it comes to public debate, it’s a dicier situation. This isn’t a personal matter that others don’t want to or need to hear about; it’s something we’re all thinking about anyhow. The problem comes into play when you realize that there are handfuls of people who don’t feel like you do and they’re on your feed and will automatically respond with passion, the same as you. Before you know it, you’re debating on a place not built on the format because you can only give out 140 characters at a time.
Think about that now. I’ll give you a second. On Twitter, we’re given a space to blurt out whatever the hell we want at the rate we can think it and type it. The service gave us a limit. There’s a reason for that.
I would never stop anyone from discussing how they feel, because I believe that’s why we were given free will, but you need to learn how to do it in a way that nobody’s going to judge you for five minutes of venting, you know? Perhaps link to someone’s article or maybe to a news post and leave it at that. Let someone else’s words do the talking and you can stand behind what they say without your words being the feverish venom that gets people fired. Maybe question some details or even question what people are thinking and feeling and let their thoughts facilitate any need you have to really get things out. Talk with them privately and discuss it in a matter that makes you look like you’re open to both sides of the coin and not just ready to burn down the barnyard because the sky is possibly falling.
At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings and we’re not going to be able to contain ourselves constantly — but wouldn’t it be nice if we could make some attempts at having civility when tragedies occur? Wouldn’t it be a grand concept to know that our feelings aren’t being used against us due to a Google search and some careful and calculating research? How nice a world that would be.
Where do you stand when it comes to using Twitter and other forms of social media to display your feelings on things like the Zimmerman trial and political discourse? Do you think people open fire too easily on these forums?
[Image via Ian L and edited by author]