Last week, as I was avoiding clicking back to the Cincinnati Reds’ unfortunate “postseason” collapse, I found myself sucked back into the game via my second screen — Twitter on my dumb smartphone.
Pitcher Mat Latos’ Twitter-prolific wife Dallas created a breaking news situation with one 140-character-or-less post about being punched in the back of the head by a female Pirates fan at Pittsburgh’s beautiful PNC Park.
The story itself was hard to pull away from — a player’s wife and numerous other fans/relatives get caught up in the tsunami of overheated passions in the stadium of a team whose following has suffered through a long spell of losing seasons and was now exploding with excitement.
But what followed was a sickeningly hypnotic barrage of pure Twitter hatred, born from passion but spiraling out of control.
There were the heated defensive posts that painted Pittsburgh — sorry, “Shittsburgh,” as it was christened by many Reds fans that night — as a hellhole full of inbred brutes. I think everyone — especially sports lovers — in Cincinnati should visit Pittsburgh. (And Cleveland. And St. Louis.) The exciting growth spurt Cincinnati is going through now is mirrored in all of these cities. A visit is good for perspective on how unreasonable it is to dismiss an entire city based on a sports rivalry.
Many Pittsburgh fans decided to thrash Latos directly with a flood of crude insults and angry insistence that she was a sore loser and a liar. The sub stream of Latos’ many tweets during and after the game was a cesspool showcasing the vicious side of fierce civic pride, all centered around grown men hitting balls with sticks.
The anonymity of social media takes a couple more steps to achieve than the endangered anonymous commenting systems of websites (like citybeat.com) — if you go too far on a fake account and get reported, there’s a good chance it will be shut down instantly. But many of the Latos bashers seemed to be on legitimate personal accounts and perfectly fine with anyone with computer access seeing their actual names, sometimes also revealing their jobs or other affiliations right next to hate-filled epithets that would get one beaten to near-death if uttered in public or at least fired if ever spoken in most workplaces.
The most unfortunate aspect of the Pittsburgh/Cincinnati Twitter war was seeing how readily people will behave so inhumanely when shielded by the ill-perceived distance social media provides.
I feel some of the same vitriol expressed in many of these angry tweets. But it’s not that hard to resist the urge to publicly express irrational rage related to a sporting event. Especially so pointedly directed at a single person. The pile-on mindset of online communication can be stomach-churning. It often seems like social media users forget real people are on the other side of their more vile missives, as if we’re all just unfeeling brain-bots floating around some bad virtual reality experience. (We’re not. Yet.)
Schools have been promoting anti-bullying programs this month. Cyber bullying is especially important to address if we hope to dial back some of the prevalent viciousness of online interaction going forward. It is literally killing some children who are so crushed by disgustingly malicious online attacks, they see suicide as the best way to make it stop. The next generation is going to have to figure out how to deal with this new, potentially deadly weapon. Once they figure it out, I hope they share it with the “grownups.”
This passion breakdown isn’t exclusive to sports fans, of course. Two days after the Reds’ loss, an elected government official was so caught up by the passions swirling around the healthcare/shutdown clusterfuck, he dropped some irrational hatred on Twitter.
Within one minute of posting about gun shots being heard outside the Capitol building, Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin tweeted, “Stop the violent rhetoric President Obama, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. #Disgusting.” That hashtag is more fitting than he probably intended.
Our tech-enabled new age of incivility is the definition of a top-down problem.
Being passionate is one of our finest attributes, but if you allow hate to overcome it, you might feel self-satisfied for a few minutes, but, ultimately, no one “wins.” Take a deep breath and really consider if you’d say what you’re typing to someone face-to-face.
Perhaps Dallas Latos summed it up best with a tweet a few days after her assaults: “Hate is loud but love is louder. Remember that.”