Thursday 22 March 2018

Please Take Time To Think

(Please be careful with this one: trigger warnings for suicide and bullying)

Have a heart.  You'll need it for this post.
Earlier this week, I heard about someone who tried to commit suicide after being attacked on Facebook due to a dispute over the creation of a book cover.  People accused her of stealing the design and then started a series of personal attacks telling her to kill herself and that the world would be better off without her in it.

Just so there is no confusion about my position: attacking this young woman was wrong.  Even if she maliciously and deliberately appropriated someone else's work, she would not deserve this level of abuse (and from what I've seen, that seems like it would be out of character for the young woman in question and that there is not sufficient similarity between the covers to assume her design was stolen).

Two of my friends have had their work plagiarized and it is a horrible, violating experience.  In those cases, it was a deliberate theft.  The names of the characters were changed but over 85% of the text was identical.  That's not a coincidence or an accidental repeating of a turn of phrase.  It was an attempt by another author to pass off their work as her own so that she could keep putting out new books at a frantic pace.

Both of my friends were heartbroken.  It felt like a personal attack on themselves.  They had put a great deal of time and effort into their books.   The plagiarizing author first claimed she had never heard of the books in question, then claimed it was an unconscious echoing, and then finally admitted that she may have "unwisely" borrowed too much from their texts.

This woman did what the young cover designer was accused of.  And it was intensely painful for my friends to go through.  And not once did they ever attack her on a personal level or encourage anyone else to do so.  They told their fans not to engage but rather to trust in the authorities.  They certainly never pushed for this author to commit suicide.

Because that would be wrong.  Even though she harmed them, that's not worthy of a mob-induced death sentence.

Every time I hear about someone encouraging someone else to harm themselves or trying to deny their basic humanity, it's sickening and disheartening.  It's hard to believe these are real people and not some horrific AI bots.  How can a real person say such hurtful things, attack with such deliberate intent to cause pain?  It's beyond my imagination and I'm glad of that.  I have enough darkness in my head without it.

I've heard it defended through claims that these are people who don't know better.  That they don't understand how telling someone to kill themselves could cause someone to actually do it.  That to them, it's merely hyperbole on a screen.  I don't think that's true.  I think the people who do such things know the power they wield and the satisfaction that it gives them outweighs the impact on their conscience.

But I also believe they are far fewer in number than we might believe.  Their power is enhanced by those sending angry messages attacking a person's character, their integrity, and their intentions.  Those messages destabilize the target and leave them vulnerable to the true predators.

So I'm hoping that everyone will take a moment to think before sending out angry messages on social media.  Even when it feels entirely justified and it seems that the target deserves to be subjected to public rage, we should hesitate.  Because we can never know the full story.  We're making snap judgments based on a small amount of information that may or may not be true, and even if true, may have been presented in a biased way.  We should avoid joining in social media lynch mobs, especially if they are targeted at a particular individual.

Please, just take some time to think before typing.  It really can be the difference between life and death.

Have another heart.  I think we all need it after that.

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