Monday, November 17, 2014

The Internet is Making the World an Angry Place

On The Ticket, our shows broadcast live each day for anywhere from two to four-and-a-half hours. In the case of the morning show, that's over 1100 hours each year of live radio. Much of it, because of the nature of the medium, is done on the fly. Therefore, we make mistakes. All of us do. That's why we have a segment each week called "The Emergency Brake of the Week," which highlights our gaffes. Like a quarterback who makes bad throws, our hope is to limit our mistakes. In baseball, perfect games are rare. In radio, perfect broadcasts are also rare. But that's ok--unless you check your email or Twitter or Facebook, where mistakes are not acceptable. Example:

Me, during a college football segment: "Mississippi State has beaten four ranked teams this season..."

(30 seconds later on Twitter)

@PigBoy: "Mississippi State has beaten five ranked teams, not four, you fucking idiot"

@MomasBoy82: "Hey dick face, the Bulldogs have beaten six ranked teams. Do your homework, then go die"

@LittleBenjisChewToy: "Junior, you suck. The Bulldogs have beaten three ranked teams. Stop giving them so much credit, you SEC-loving asshole"

@TooMuchTude: "Hey Junior, you Big 12 homer, Miss St has beaten seven ranked teams this year. I hate you"

Last week on the show, I theorized that the internet is making the world angrier. Society has always had an angry edge to it, but the internet has given that anger a new platform to be heard and to be spread--nothing has ever helped fuel the fire of ill-will more quickly or efficiently. You will be hard-pressed to post something on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram without someone wanting to tear it down by slinging a snarky, negative, or even violent remark your way. Comment sections on websites are also a haven for hate. I moderate all comments on this blog because, well, it's my blog. If someone disagrees with something I've written, I allow them to tell me why, as long as they can do it in a civil tone. But if someone simply wants to post "You suck donkey balls" for no reason, I don't allow the comment. I see no reason to.

Mark Cuban coined the genius phrase "Twitter muscles," referring to the anonymous millions who say things online that they would never say in person. In many, anonymity creates bravado, and I think that nameless/faceless world shows just how angry a lot of people really are. Maybe it's because the pressures of modern society are increasing--we don't sleep much, we don't eat well, and keeping up with your neighbor is more important that ever. Economic times have been tough, which has led to unemployment or underemployment, which has led to frustration. How do you release that frustration? By going on Twitter and telling others how much they suck, so that, for a brief moment, they will feel your misery, and you won't be alone in that misery. Perhaps you feel empowered because someone heard your voice. After being bullied by life, you suddenly get to be the bully, if only for the few seconds it took to type "you're a moron" and hit send. But it doesn't end there, because once you hit send your problems don't follow that message out into space--they stay with you, which means you must flip the bully role again. And so the anger spreads.

Hate has always been a part of human history. The Egyptian people probably ripped Moses constantly, writing "Moses is a douchebag" on a scroll and passing it around town. But the scroll system was much slower than today's internet (unless you still have dial-up). These days, the hate can spread around the world in the blink of an angry eye. Everyone now has a platform, and your opinion can go viral in seconds. A recent study reviewed in the Washington Post showed that hateful or negative tweets are much more likely to be re-tweeted than joyful or encouraging tweets. Part of society feeds on anger, and I get the feeling it's a larger part of society than we would like to think.

Talk radio is partly to blame. Our job is to cast a critical eye on what we observe. Sadly, a terrible mistake by an athlete gets people talking much more than an athlete's positive performance, and talk radio can certainly stir up a hornet's nest. However, one difference from the internet storm is that radio hosts (or newspaper columnists or television commentators) are authoring their opinions in their own name. We, at the very least, can be held accountable for something negative we might say because we are not anonymous. Plus, we are governed by the FCC, which means our language can only get so filthy, which helps keep the volatility of a comment somewhat in check. I like to think that I've become more aware of the weight that my opinions might carry, and whom they might negatively impact, than I was in the earlier part of my career as a talk show host. I believe I've mellowed, but at the same time I've noticed the world around me getting angrier.

Not all of the feedback we receive is negative. Much of it is complimentary of the job we do, and for that feedback I'm grateful. Some of it is even forgiving and understanding, which restores my faith in humanity. But so much of it can be negative, and the negative has a way of sticking with you longer than the positive. And I'm a small fish--I can't imagine the incredible hatred that President Obama or President Bush or Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong has had to put up with over the years. Many days I wonder how they do it.

I'm not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me because I get hateful tweets. I realize feedback is a part of a public job, and, as Troy Aikman once said about criticism, "I'm a big boy, I can handle it." It's just the increasingly violent tone of the criticism that has me wondering about our collective blood pressure.

Since the internet is truly a modern-day Wild West, it's not likely that the hatred will recede any time soon. It's illegal to beat someone up, or vandalize someone's property, so many will continue to take out their life frustrations (whatever the cause may be) by getting angry online. It's not against the law to call a politician an asshole in a comments section, but if you've got any kind of conscience, it should make you feel worse, not better, to be a part of the hate.

And, if you at all disagree with anything I've written here, you can shove it up your ass.