Teach your children

Normally I wouldn’t write about this. I’d keep my head down, hoping that someone else would say what I might. Many of the people cited in Rafe Needleman’s post are friends, professional colleagues, and actors in the Web 2.0 comedy. But this stuff isn’t funny, trading in the politics of personal destruction is not professional, and letting this slide is not an act of friendship.

Writing or producing or performing for a living opens us up to the slings and arrows of those who feel helpless, unrepresented, or disrespected. The way the Internet works, anonymity is a shield to hide behind. The only thing worse than that anonymity is the fix for it: digital numbers tatooed on every arm. As we found out in the last administration, destroying our human rights to torture the potentially innocent backfires when we all are presumed guilty.

If anonymity is worth the cost, we have to find some other ways to keep the discourse at what my father used to call a low howl. As a father of two children (15 and 8) my responsibility is to leave them with a sense of what is the right thing to do. My father has been dead for 34 years, but I can conjure up at any moment what he might think about any action I’ve ever taken. Of course, I’m really just mapping my sense of what’s right on top of what he taught me to honor.

The actions of the haters in the virtual world may be excused as a function of the distancing of technology, but I think that’s just blaming the tools — guns don’t kill, bullets do. We all know better than to revel in the tyranny of the whisper, the flexing of the innuendo, the bullying of the vulnerable. But as parents, we fail when we let the hatred pass as just another day’s work, a kind of wink and a nod that excuses the drumbeat of thoughtless banter and real fear slipped in along with the childish and class cut-upping.

Do we really have to let this get as far as death threats before we realize how seriously off the rails we are? It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. And since it is, it’s time for a trip to the principal’s office, not for the kids but for us parents. The kids don’t know better, but we do and yet we condone this crap as entertainment, or competition, or all’s fair in love and war.

I’ll continue to joust with the haters and the ignorant, the ones who sign their names especially. But someone from the world I inhabit (and I dismiss the argument that the mainstream and new medias are fundamentally different) who treats hate as a parlor game will need to fix this before I will continue to respect and compete with him or her. Because entertaining with hate is teaching the young that this is OK, that they have something to aspire to, something to achieve, something to profit from.

We all make mistakes. I’ve made plenty, and I’m sure I’ll hear more about them after this. Three of the people in Rafe’s article are members of the Gillmor Gang, and Dave Winer is one of the main reasons we all have the power in our fingertips to speak our minds in this digital age of lowered barriers. These people don’t deserve these attacks, period. Neither do their families and friends. I take it personally. So should you.