Sometimes the Internet is a bit like a middle school bully ready to pounce on the first person he finds to knock them down and steal their lunch money.
Sometimes the condemnation is deserved -- the students who caused Tyler Clementi's suicide have been forced to drop out of school because of their actions. But sometimes it isn't.
Think of the Internet "stories" that have blown up -- the "boom goes the dynamite" sportscaster who was only a young college student with a messed up teleprompter, the David after the dentist dad who many say exploited his son, and many more.
Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei did a horrible thing. And on first glance, I, too, wanted to see them strung up by their toes. But kids do stupid things and they will pay the price. They are getting prosecuted. They likely would have been expelled from Rutgers anyway, but do they really deserve to have no chance of life ever again? Really?
Homophobia should be cut out of our society like a cancer, but it isn't even 100 percent clear that what they did was homophobia. It was bullying, which is equally reprehensible. No one can defend their actions. It's just not clear that they deserve to be disemboweled for the whole world to see.
The Internet is powerful and it spreads information -- and anger -- like no other means of communication before it. It can be scary. Here are a few Internet scapegoats that might deserve a little bit of sympathy:
- Maura Kelly: This Marie Claire blogger wrote a nasty little piece about her disgust with "fatties," and it has garnered an unbelievable amount of attention. It was cruel and it was callous and it showed her to have a clear bias, but should she be fired? She should be raked over the coals for all to see and called "ugly" and told it's "no wonder she's single"? She started a conversation and that's always an important thing.
- Jillian Michaels: She says one thing about babies ruining her figure and the Interwebs erupts. Are we really so politically correct that we're shocked that a trainer who gets paid for her perfect abs complaining about something that would stretch them seems weird? Babies do change our bodies. So what?
- Juan Williams: This NPR analyst was fired for comments he made on the O'Reilly Factor saying he was afraid of Muslims on airplanes. While the content of what he said was embarrassing, he deserves to be educated. It should have been fodder for discussion, not a reason to fire and excoriate him.
- Andrew Cohen: A columnist for Politics Daily, Cohen wrote a column "On Her Wedding Day, Saying the Things Left Unsaid" that ignited the blogosphere with anger. In it, Cohen says how he messed up with the one woman he loved with the caveat that this pathetic missive was all taking place on her wedding day. Yup. Except hold on a minute. These were his real feelings. Does he really deserve to be crucified for them? Isn't it his job to write and be honest about his feelings? Does he really deserve the wrath of 10 million clickers?
- Caitlin Upton: Miss Teen South Carolina made a fool of herself during the Miss Teen USA pageant in 2007. She gave a nonsensical response to a question during the interview part of the competition that was forwarded far and wide and everyone called her a moron. But is she? She was just a teenager who was nervous.
It's so easy with the immediacy of the Web to jump on the hate train and ride it home. I'm guilty of it, too. But we have to remember, these are real people with real jobs and real feelings and maybe one mistake isn't indicative of who they are overall. Maybe we should take a step back and ask ourselves who the real bullies are.
What do you think of these stories?
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