Smartypants Ethics and the No Troll Rule

Many people are so frustrated with the Trump Administration they’ve resorted to posting dark humor at the president’s (sic) expense on social media.  Most of the humor isn’t creepy enough to warrant a visit from the authorities, but even then there are standards to observe.  Those standards have nothing to do with the way we feel about Donald Trump or anyone else.  They’re just unwritten rules making it clear that good people take care not to cause harmand that conflicts are best handled when acting on experience, not emotion.

Yesterday, I used Windows 10 tools to alter screenshots of two public figures’ Twitter posts.  The results were shared only with friends, and included a disclaimer that the tweets were, uh, revised.  None were inflammatory.  They were ironic humor, focused on the two individuals’ lack of self-awareness.  Insulting as all heck, but not incendiary.

When using computer tools that way, it’s up to each person to make the rules.  I err on the side of safety by sharing only with friends, and I will continue to fight the temptation to make those classic bits of tampering public (damn, they’re good, and I know it).  The disclaimer that the posts should not be attributed to the Twitter account holders will remain, even if the temptation to go public gets the best of me.

Most of us have made mistakes while posting online — mistakes we wish we could take back.  One of my memorable errors in judgment involved ironic humor directed at two fellow Twitter users who were having a silly conversation.  One of those people got the joke, and wasn’t offended that I interrupted the conversation.  The other took offense and blocked me.

I wish I could apologize to the person who blocked me.  It would be fine if she wanted to keep my account blocked, but just telling her no harm was intended could have been comforting to her.  I didn’t ask the other person in the conversation to intervene because that might have been overbold.  I did apologize to him, though, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t offended in the first place.  My actions caused stress during his time online, so an apology was appropriate.

Anyone who has a conscience should use care to avert these problems, and when something happens by accident there are going to be guilt feelings.  I hope you are among those people.

An online troll could be anyone.  It’s obvious most of them have near-nonexistent writing skills, so accept that at least a few of those people who can’t write a decent sentence have a truckload of emotions they don’t express well.  As bad as troll posts look, the stuff that’s being held in may be worse.

At some point, you may find out someone you respect is getting inordinately nasty (often with a made up username) on the internet.  We don’t always know what motivates people that way, but when we get a shock like that from an acquaintance or a loved one we must reevaluate the amount of trust we place in that person.

The internet is attractive to most of us, and anonymity is part of the appeal.  That may be the strongest argument in favor of looking before we leap.

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