Saturday, January 5, 2008

Civil Speech? Where?

In the past few days, I've been roaming various comment boards on an array of different Web sites. This is not something I usually have time to do, and now I have another good reason not to waste my time with it. These boards, with the exception of those who cater to a specific set of highly articulate readers interested in issues of substance, have become places for people to spill vast amounts of bile. When people disagree here, they don't resort to reason. They resort to character assassination, name-calling of the most vile type, ethic and racial slurs that make my head spin, bullying, and all-round nastiness.

Barack Obama wins in Iowa? Let's get on the Web and call him everything from a Communist to the N-word to a Muslim extremist bent on destroying the United States. And, of course, let's be sure not to let our invective be tempered by even rudimentary fact checking. Let's just spread our lies as fast as we can.

Britney Spears has a breakdown? Let's kick her while she's strapped to a gurney in an ambulance. Let's blame her for all the world's ills. And while we're at it, let's all state the "absolute facts" about what's happened to a young woman we've never met. Beside having excessively bad judgment, what has she done to unleash such a torrent of hateful diatribes? Has she hurt any of the people who now call on her to "do us all a favor and die"?

Behind the cloak of anonymity, people feel safe to say anything they wish. What's sad, though, is that this kind of speech is now no longer cloaked. Emboldened by what they get away with online, people say whatever they want, wherever they want, to whomever they want. It's road rage with words, assault with speech, and it goes all the way down to elementary school. If you haven't been on a 5th-grade playground lately, it's an education.

I don't have the answer, but I can urge all of us to think before we use speech to harm another, judge another, or make another's life miserable.

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