Let’s not overlook insensitivity on Social Media

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Illustration by Nour Faragallah

If you’ve ever looked into a comments section of a popular figure’s post on any social media platform, you’ve met a mixture of positive and insensitive comments. Social media has allowed us to voice all kinds of negative thoughts with no consequences. There are many factors to this, whether it’s hiding behind a screen or running away from what we say online unlike in real life, or the fact that many of these insensitive comments come from anonymous accounts.

In the early stages of the presidential race, during one of the Democratic primary debates, Joe Biden stuttered. Some people didn’t like that. One user, in particular, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, jumped on Twitter mocking Biden’s speech impediment. Sanders wasn’t the only one. Biden, who has opened up about his stutter before, noted that earlier in his career it made him question himself and his abilities daily. Biden later called on his Twitter for empathy and Sanders has since apologized and deleted the tweet. But the sad truth is that when many people saw Joe Biden stutter on TV, the first thing they thought was to go online and make fun of his speech disability. And it’s very likely that none of them would make such comments to his face.

More recently when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, people all over the country mourned the death of a cultural icon. Even people who disagreed with her political stances wished her well, including President Trump and many conservative politicians. However, the same couldn’t be said for everyone. Many right-leaning individuals on social media including Georgia Congressman Doug Collins did not respect the passing of Ginsburg. Collins sent his condolences to the unborn babies Justice Ginsburg “killed”, rather than to the late Ginsburg. Instead of putting politics aside for a moment, some individuals chose to attack her for her stance on abortion, which was rather insensitive. It was also very disrespectful to her memory, as Justice Ginsburg is one of the main reasons women have basic rights such as owning a credit card and signing a mortgage without a man’s signature. Again, instead of using social media as a tool to send prayers to Justice Ginsburg’s family, some individuals have used it as a tool to spread hateful and insensitive messages toward the late justice. It’s doubtful that was a message those individuals would have said to her family in person.

Recently, model Chrissy Teigen and singer John Legend suffered a miscarriage. Since Teigen was updating everyone on her Twitter about her unexpected run into the hospital in the middle of her pregnancy, she posted a tweet announcing her pregnancy loss accompanied by a heartfelt message to her unborn son, Jack and photos of her mourning the death of her son. Swiftly, “Chrissy” was trending on twitter, with people both thanking her for being brave and talking about her miscarriage (an issue that has been stigmatized despite how recurrent it is among women) and accusing her of oversharing and posting the photos for attention. Some QAnon conspiracy theorists, who have notoriously attacked Teigen for her political standings, even went as far as saying she staged her pregnancy and miscarriage. And it’s beyond belief that someone would say that to Teigen’s face.

It is clear that there is an inconsistency between how we act online versus how we act in person. And it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Even if it’s just political division or for example mere individuals who feel entitled to comment on someone’s body online or judge someone based on one picture that they see, we have to reevaluate our insensitive judgments to others online.

So the next time you comment on any kind of post, think of these questions: Does that comment portray me well? Does my comment regard peoples’ feelings? Is my comment necessary or can I move on? Would I say that to that person in real life? It could mean more than we realize to the person behind the other screen.

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