A Facebook acquaintance I’ll call Joe posted a video a couple of days ago of an extremely obese woman on an electric scooter trying to get through a sliding door at some retail outlet. She had difficulty because her body was wider than the opening. Joe and his friends thought it was not only acceptable but very amusing to say vile things about the woman, calling her, among other things, a whale.
I tried to make the point that they have no idea what may have caused her obesity. It’s not always simple overeating. I used my own spinal cord injury and the medications that caused my own weight gain as an example. Foolishly I thought that perhaps they’d realize that their mockery was childish and cruel. I was wrong. They instantly attacked me, one calling me “tubby” and another telling me I should eat only salads and berries.
The posting of this video and the vicious comments made by Joe and his friends made me think about the general willingness of people on social media to be extraordinarily cruel. People regularly post photos and videos of people for the sole purpose of saying hateful things. Others pretend to be outraged at the savageness of some groups by posting videos of beheadings or of children who have been crucified. How is posting these pictures and videos expressing condemnation rather than prurient fascination?
Social media can be a great thing. It allows families and friends separated by great distance the ability to stay in touch. It gives people a place to meet like-minded folks to discuss hobbies and interests. Many people get a lot of their news via social media (not that I think that’s a good thing).
But there is a dark, evil side to social media and both the video Joe posted and the response to it expose that evil. Social media has somehow convinced people that they should treat others with as much disrespect, ridicule, and blind hatred as possible. The men who laughed along with Joe clearly hated the strange woman because of her physical attributes. Let me reiterate. They hate the woman because she’s fat. And they felt fully justified in their hatred.
Joe tried to cover their loathing by saying that he laughs at himself and everyone should laugh at themselves as well. But he clearly refused to accept that laughing at yourself is a far cry from having total strangers laugh at you and say intentionally painful things about you. And, when he said that they people who were joining him in his intolerance were “good, honest” guys, I believe he actually thinks that way.
And that is why social media can be so dangerous. It makes ordinary people treat others in ways that they would never want to be treated or to have their loved ones treated. It encourages the banality of evil. And these men are evil and they don’t even realize it. Just as everyone who posts photos or videos of strangers so that they can be the victims of viral viciousness displays his or her malevolence.