Tag Archives: twitter

Facebook Therapy

By: Chris Warren

Twenty First Summer was conceived in part out of my disgust with social media. Somewhat hypocritically, this blog does have a Twitter account that I hope all my readers follow  @twentyfirstsum because it’s an unfortunate necessity for reader interaction. Yet even while I’ve happily been able to keep social media at the edges of my life, there are others, actually many others, who have turned it into their psychologist.

Here’s the kicker: I’m sort of thinking this may not be such a bad idea. Not for me of course, for them. I know that sounds a little way out there coming from a guy who has made mocking the stupid that is Facebook a recurring theme, but venting is a legitimate form of therapy. Just because it’s not done under the supervision of a $150/hour therapist doesn’t mean it’s not effective treatment.

In between the the ubiquitous cute puppy videos and trite “post this on your wall if you love someone with (insert name of unfortunate malady here)” memes, are things along the lines of rants about the weather, the boss, significant other, job loss, divorces, death, gastrointestinal issues, traffic jams, kids. All the turds of life are well represented.

The appearance of “too much information” personal issues may be shocking, but the reasoning behind them is legitimate. The on line catharsis provides a release that in another time would have been taken out on family members, coworkers, store clerks, or held inside until it could be contained no longer. For all its ridiculous vanity, Facebook at the very least gives users a platform to clear their frustrations in a relatively harmless, nonviolent way.

I very seldom post anything on my personal Facebook page but I will scroll through my newsfeed fairly regularly to lurk around and see what others are doing. My feed probably looks like everyone else’s except with different names. What takes me aback is the amazingly revealing public comments made by people I consider to rational, mature, and level-headed, at least when they are not on line.

Since screaming into a pillow is overrated, Facebook therapy works only when the rants are made when others will hear (or see) them. Part of me thinks these people are a bit kooky even though I otherwise respect them and understand why they have these outbursts. The problem: How do I respond? Should I respond? When I say I “very seldom” make a Facebook post I mean maybe two or three times a year, so clicking “like” or making a comment opens the door to an on line back and forth I’d rather not get involved with.

I’d prefer my friends just call me if they have something heavy on their mind. If they’d rather blow digital steam, I’ll be listening there too even though I probably won’t reply. If it gives them a comfortable outlet they might not otherwise have for their frustrations, then why should I hate on that? I still think Facebook is one of the most hopeless wastes of bandwidth since the Kim Kardashian YouTube channel, but even a pile of crap is useful as fertilizer.

United States v. Elonis Is A Supreme Mistake.

By: Chris Warren

Almost everyone, including myself, has at some point said something they later regret. If it’s said on the internet, or later leaked onto the internet, then it has the potential to create an ocean of unintended consequences. YouTube alone is littered with career-ending remarks that are so jaw-dropping dumb, it makes one wonder: What path of insane reasoning did the speaker use to come to the conclusion that what they were saying was a good idea? Adding to the astonishment, many of these comments were made with the full knowledge they would be open to the public. It’s not a “what were you thinking?” moment, It’s an “are you even capable of thinking?” moment.

The story of Anthony Elonis might have been just another cautionary tale of how a guy let his mosquito brain overpower his alligator mouth; what makes it stand out is the small brain-big mouth combo pack is going all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The gist of the case is that Elonis was convicted of making threats of violence to others on his Facebook page. At least one of the comments was directed at…now get this…an FBI agent who was investigating his other threats. The particulars of the case are rather boring and lengthy as would be expected in a legal proceeding. I have read it so you don’t have to, and trust me when I say in addition to his legal trouble there is something really wrong going on inside Elonis’ head.

Elonis does not deny that he made the comments and the facts of the case are not in question. In simple terms, Elonis wants the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction because his remarks were made on line. His defense is that people talk trash on line all the time and what is said there should not be taken seriously. He therefore considers his statements, which include musing about shooting up a kindergarten class, “free speech”.

To be clear, this is not about one coarsely-worded rant or a volley of argumentative one-upmanship of the kind that pops up on Facebook and Twitter millions of times a day. There were numerous threats of graphic violence made over a long period of time and directed at more than one individual, and Elonis has a history of inappropriate behavior in his off line life. Among other things, he was fired from his job for making sexual advances towards an underage female coworker. Legal issues aside, Anthony Elonis is at minimum a creepy pervert whom I would not allow anywhere near any woman I care about.

The failure is not in the legal system, but in Elonis’ screwed up sense of his “rights” and a general breakdown of civility enabled by the internet. It way too easy to be abusive while hiding behind a keyboard. Being mean to people you can’t see is an easy trap to fall into even for those who are normally in control of themselves. Many times I wisely re-worded a message because it sounded unnecessarily harsh; and a few times I later wished I had more carefully edited myself.

The Supreme Court blew it by agreeing to hear this case because by doing so they acknowledge that Elonis might be right. No doubt the lame “it was on the internet so it doesn’t count” defense was cooked up by Elonis’ attorneys. In a way I do not blame the lawyers. They have a duty to represent their client  and can only work with what they are given. But wow, is this such a tough call that we have to bring in the Supreme Court to deal with it? The defense’s theory is that there should be a different benchmark of acceptability for on line speech than there is for any other medium; this is known as the subjective standard. He expects the Court to affirm that threatening someone with violence is ok as long as it’s done on line.

Elonis is a criminal with a proclivity towards violence and his conviction should stand. Threatening an FBI agent and giving a step-by-step description of how you want to whack your ex goes well beyond free speech. I don’t understand why the Supremes think there is a possibility the lower courts got it wrong and Elonis was simply pursuing his First Amendment rights. If the Court rules in favor of the defense, it sets up a precedent for every nutjob and hate group in the land to go on line and threaten whoever they want under the protective umbrella of free speech with no legal recourse for the intended victim.

What is it about sitting in front of a computer that turns otherwise considerate people into ultra-jerks? Maybe not to the level Elonis has elevated it, but unkind nonetheless. We non-criminals can learn something from the case of Anthony Elonis. The world would be a more gentle place if we imagined ourselves speaking face to face with the target of our flames before pressing send.