When Social Media Becomes Anti-Social

Among the best things about social media is that it breaks down social barriers and makes the global community a smaller place. These are also among the worst things about social media.

Last weekend Twitter, sports and the worst of humanity collided in a series of incidents that reminds us that social media in the wrong hands and used without forethought can be  powerful, ugly tool.

I have no problem with sports fanaticism. I’m a sports fanatic myself. My heart sank Saturday night watching my beloved Tigers fall to South Carolina. I’d like think my sense of reason allows me to realize that when my team loses that it wasn’t done to cause my any personal agony, and that rarely if ever is a loss one person’s fault. There are usually dozens of moments in a game that can the result in one way or another.

The problem is not everyone sees in that one. A vocal and ugly minority not only believe their opinion is of value to anyone other than themselves, but they have the god given right to spew their venom at the object of their anger. In this case, a couple of great college kids representing their university with class and distinction.

Calling people who attack college athletes “fans” is an insult to true sports fans. These people are not fans. I have a hard time to believe these are isolated incidents. If you tweet threats of violence and hate at a college athlete, I have no reason not to believe you’re the same person yelling at a kid’s soccer game, taking 20 items though the 12 items or less line, weaving in and out of traffic without using your blinkers or committing any other social norms you have. You’re the person we talk about at parties — “You won’t believe what this idiot at work did today.”

Some people believe the anonymity and distance social media makes it easy for people to hide behind avatars and away from the public eye, thus increasing the likelihood of boorish behavior. But most Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts are not anonymous — they are real reflections of the individual’s character.

I don’t know if there are lasting consequences when fandom gets out of control. I’d like to think they are. There are plenty of people sending Tweets last weekend I would never hire to represent my company. I wouldn’t even invite them to a party.

It would be nice if people who get called out for boorish behavior saw the error of their ways apologized and mended their ways. Sadly, the result is usually just to change their privacy settings or delete the message, waiting for the next opportunity to act out.

What can we do? The trolls can’t be engaged and can’t be informed. The only think you can do is isolate them. Don’t follow them. Don’t give them the attention they crave. Like a disease outbreak, the only solution is to surround them with the inoculated. When they realize they are all alone, maybe they will realize what it means to be part of a community.