There’s something that seems to be happening more and more—and it’s pissing me off. Broadly speaking, they call it “cyber bullying” but more specifically, this is somewhat of a local phenomenon. Hyper-local-cyber-bullying? Or is it just bullying?
A few years ago as belligerent blog/news commenters became the norm, there was a new, growing, troubling trend of people not only airing their grievances about local businesses online, but primarily or exclusively doing so and using their chosen platform as a bully pulpit. Think Yelp. Think #GamerGate. Think The Oatmeal. Certainly, the anonymity and distance that the internet provides us is a convenient way to say a bunch of things we wouldn’t otherwise say—in a way we wouldn’t otherwise say them. More and more, I’ve sat by and watched people become shittier and shittier to one another. It was one thing when it was ‘society’ in general. But then it was people I knew.
I first moved to Austin in 1980 as a kid and grew up here until high school, returning for college. Over the years, the quality I have most identified with this town is the friendliness. Sure, it has become less-so over the years—ever so gradually—but still, the more I go other places, the more I’ve come to appreciate how good most Austinites are to one another. Not nice in that bless-your-heart, Southern sort of way, but genuinely decent. Even to this day, I am affronted when someone does something dishonest or gross to someone. Call me old fashioned, but it just seems so… un-Austin.
I think that’s why it has bothered me especially that, over the past month or so, I have watched as people I know and respect are using social media to slam people and small businesses right here in their own city. The Strange Fruit PR debacle was a really good example. To sum up, a couple of hapless, local, young women stepped in it royally with their racially insensitive name—getting negative national attention in the media and on Twitter—and the collective response locally was… “serves them right.” I think partially it was because it was fun to pile on and partially because people were afraid to take a stand. It’s much easier to be on the side of the angry mob.
Right now, there’s another thing bubbling up between two people I happen to know. I won’t go into particulars but—in essence—the instigator has taken to social media to mercilessly lambaste something the other did. Purportedly, it is all done for the greater good. But if that’s the case, why all the slander and mud-slinging? If you care about a business, or a cause, or a principle… why not contact the person that you perceived to have crossed you or a line and work it out? ESPECIALLY locally, we should care enough about decorum (and having stones cast at us) to just reach out and connect. Then here’s a radical idea: keep it to yourself. GASP! I know, it might be unheard of to not broadcast a social slight or a retail turnaround saga, but it might just be the right thing to do.
Of course the reason people don’t do that is that their intentions are largely disingenuous. They want attention, free stuff, a perception that they are more savvy/righteous, etc. I’ve been tempted myself. Once I sent a complaint tweet about Bird’s Barbershop, only to get a direct message, email, then call from the manager and a complimentary haircut with all the trimmings. All because I didn’t pay attention to the policy and bitched about it. You know how it made me feel? Like an asshole.
So, the next time you are out in the world and you see/experience something that just sticks in your craw, here’s what I suggest you do: give the person or entity the benefit of the doubt and bring it up right then there, follow up with an email later, or just rise above it.
People that live in glass houses don’t want rocks thrown at them. They just want people to look at their every move.