Witch hunts are back in style

By Glenn Battishill

When the Internet was new, people worried about what effect being able to post things anonymously would have. At first everything was generally fine but as anyone who’s ever been on YouTube knows, people on the Internet are ruthless and will rip you apart.

For the most part this never factors into most people’s online interactions.

However, in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, the debate about gun control has been raging on the Internet. Anyone with friends on either side of the debate will have noticed the passive aggressive Facebook posts about “guns nuts” or how “Obama is Hitler” for banning certain firearms.

This column is not about gun control or lack there of; it’s about remembering that the people you are arguing with online are still people.

An article that appear online at Kotaku.com detailed the story of a man who posed with a prop gun from the “Halo” series of games when visiting the studio in 2009 and how a photo of him holding the oversized sniper rifle was stolen and posted on a Facebook page titled “Republican Bigotry Hate Fear Lies and Distortion.” The article highlighted how people commenting on the photo were viciously insulting and mocking the man holding the prop gun, often insinuating that he had such a massive gun to “compensate for something.”

The man in the photo was a journalist who had fired a gun twice in his life.

When the article appeared on the front page of Kotaku.com the photo was promptly removed from the Facebook page but was put back up with a new description:

“What is more pathetic, someone who posts a picture of themselves with a replica of an over sized gun from a video game on the internet for attention, or the same person who cries about another page exposing him for the same reason…. Looks like someone cannot take sarcasm then has his cronies stalk them on a daily basis…”

While there is a depressing amount of punctuation issues with that statement I respect anyone’s first amendment right to the freedom to post whatever they wish on the Internet. What I cannot respect is judging someone you’ve never met simply because of a photo that was posted on the Internet.

This is just a piece of the larger problem that has been developing on the Internet in the past few years where-in people react without much thought or research. It’s true this doesn’t just extend to the Internet or the gun control debate but the amount of ignorant posts on the Internet in the past year has been appalling.

As we move further into the Information age access to research and facts has never been easier to obtain. Which is why it’s so much more depressing when people jump the gun and post incredibly ignorant things.

Another recent example came the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting when the media released a name they believed belonged to the gunman. Within minutes anyone who had the misfortune of sharing a name with the gunman was bombarded with messages, comments and death threats from across the country. Posters went to anything that the gunman (or rather, people with his name) had “liked” on Facebook and bombard those pages with hateful comments.

It begs to question why people seem to think that this is acceptable conduct. The Internet has provided an avenue to literally comment on anything you want but this kind of hate speech has to stop.

It calls to mind the fear mongering actions of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s. Fear has caused people to swarm people who have opinions contradictary to their own.

We at The Collegian published a piece two weeks ago about doing research before you believe anything on Internet but even more research should be done before you send death threats to a man you know nothing about because of a post on a politically driven Facebook page.

Please remember that people on the Internet are just like you. They have beliefs, ideas and feelings and while you might not agree with a single one that does not give you the right to call them Hitler or comment on their sex life.

This isn’t The Spanish Inquistion, the Red Scare or the Crucible.

We have places on the Internet where people can endlessly debate with and insult each other. Those are called debate forums and should be used to get athletes riled up or to get Bruce Banner to turn into the incredible Hulk.