Monday, April 6, 2015

Tolerance and Twitter

Twitter is a fascinating social media application.

It allows for a sense of immediacy that I don't think other forms of media do. When Pope Francis was elected to the Chair of Peter, I didn't have to google him. My twitter feed was already full of information.

But Twitter can also be a place of strong reaction rather than reason. One of the most commonly felt social problems in the digital age is the lack of connection to your audience. It is difficult to insult someone to their face. But sounding the air horn behind the anonymity or buffer of Twitter makes it easier to say mean-spirited things. I am no different, especially looking back on some of my live Tweets of award shows.

But in regards to this new controversy regarding the Indiana Religious Tolerance law, I've had to make an assessment: what is my threshold for unfollowing someone.

To be sure, many of the people I follow are of a similar mindset, but not all. There are many people I respect and admire with whom I disagree.

But I think there is a difference in reactions.

As I made clear in my previous post, I believe it is rational to not force someone to needlessly participate in something that violates their conscience. Others disagree.

My favorite writer, Geoff Johns, is one of them. He wrote of the Indiana pizzeria that was at the center of an online firestorm for saying they would not cater a hypothetical sam sex wedding due to religious beliefs. Johns wrote simply: There is only one place in the world I won't go eat pizza. It's in Indiana.

While I disagree with this judgment, he simply expressed his sincere beliefs. It does not take away from his talent or skill as a writer, nor does it impede my enjoyment of his work.

I also have a friend of mine who disagrees with the Indiana law. She retweeted: "Being gay isn't a choice, but living in Indiana is." Again, this is a sincere belief put in a humorous way. And nothing that is written here is contrary to Church doctrine. The Catholic Church is open to the idea that your sexual orientation is beyond a person's ability to choose. (And I assume that "being gay" here refers simply to orientation).

But then there was someone I follow who retweeted a television star whose work I enjoy on a show I love. I cannot re-write the Tweet, suffice to say that he wished that anyone who opposed the law should have the Easter Bunny defecate in their mouths.

Notice the difference: the first two examples were of people who voiced support for their opinions and commented on either their own behavior in reaction (boycotting) or commenting with humor.

The third one, however, was crude and vicious statement, wishing humiliation and harm to another because they do not share his point-of-view.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, who you follow on Twitter is about as important as choosing a font for an invitation to a birthday party for your pet cat (I chose Helvetica). And I enjoy engaging with people who have different ideas than my own. If I am wrong, they can help me see the error of my ways. If I am right, conversation with them forces me to think about my own arguments more critically and make them stronger.

But this lack of tolerance on Twitter, which is not a surprise, has worn me down. I have unfollowed the one who retweeted the hateful message. How can we engage in dialogue if the other person only wants to shout?

I know, I know, you might say that this is all part of the horribly dark world of the internet. But in a world where we can communicate with so many, so quickly, and so personally…shouldn't we be better at connecting?

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