Why I am more appalled by the internet than by Justine

In the ongoing, yet soon to be old news saga of PR professional Justine Sacco, Gawker has surprisingly (not!) tarred and feathered a woman, and called it “reporting the news.”

When I saw the #hasjustinelandedyet saga in a friend’s Facebook feed over the weekend, I was drawn in. It was hashtagging at its best, after all. Alluring. Personal. Clever. With a hint of snark.

However, I was too busy monitoring a group of rowdy eleven year old boys shooting themselves with balls of paint in celebration of one boy’s birthday — my boy’s.  Smartphone occupied more by Instagram than by Twitter, I didn’t get as sucked into the online conversation as I might have otherwise, but feel compelled to contribute my two cents this morning after reading the Gawker story.

What’s really bugging me?

The majority — who assumes Justine is a disgusting piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be called a human being. And the majority — who feels holier than thou enough to write about it.

And really? The disgusting piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be called human?

It’s the internet.

The internet, which has determined that one really awful statement typed into a keyboard or a device registered to a human being determines who and what that human being is.

The internet, which in general, didn’t really consider the (albeit, unlikely) possibility that Justine was hacked.

Which, frankly, seems possible to me.  I’m a communications professional — one with a big mouth and strong opinions. The first thing to smell fishy to me about this was the idea of a PR person showcasing her racist side on her Twitter account.

It’s really, really unlikely.

PR people can be ugly and awful. But they’re usually really, really good at making the rest of the world think otherwise.

My first reaction, instead, to reports of Justine’s racist AIDS tweet was, “She’s either drunk, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or she’s been hacked.” Call me level-headed (or, in the end, call me naive), but my first reaction wasn’t:

“FIRE THE EVIL BITCH!!!!!!!  HUMILIATE HER, FIRST!!!! THEN FIRE HER!!!!!”

The second thing that’s getting my goat about this story is the “trial by twitter” era that we live in. Even if Justine is truly a racist, not just a stupid person or a drunk person or a person who made a bad, impulsive decision, I feel more sick by humanity’s reaction to this story —  fire her! excommunicate her! humiliate her! — than I do by the unacceptable remark made by the possibly stupid or drunk person who made it.

What are we rallying around here people?

Are we truly rallying around the fight against racism? Around our empowering ability to use social media for good?

Or are we just scared little animals waiting like vultures to pounce on road kill because pouncing makes us feel strong?

More than anything, this story makes me want to leave the internet.

I don’t want to be around to find out the truth behind Justine’s remark.

I don’t want to be around to hear her apology, or explanation, or the internet’s remorse when she hangs herself because she is so shamed by the very public and unfair trial she got on Twitter.

Gawker, of course, will be the first one to write, TWO TEENS CLEARED OF CRIMINAL CHARGE IN THE TWITTER-INSPIRED BULLYING DEATH OF PR PROFESSIONAL.

And then all of Twitter, with sorrow and regret in their hearts, will hashtag #nomorejustines.

I don’t want to be around to be the person the internet tars and feathers next.

Seriously, internet, I want to leave you on days like today.

I want to break up with you forever and forget about all the good times we had.

All the community building.

All the activism.

All the kickstarting.

Days like today make me sick of you.

Craving life

One of the major down sides of social media for me is access to second degree sadness.

I just don’t need it.

Sorry if that sounds cruel, harsh.

But it’s true.

I’m a sensitive girl already.

I feel people’s eyes. Their frantic glances, their furrowed brows.

I’m pained by the way they walk with their head down low.

I’m frightened when their steps get heavy behind me.

I’m deathly afraid of a silence that emanates from thousands of miles away. Because it must mean that something is very wrong.

I absorb another’s anger as if it’s mine

And I jump high at a cough from another room or from a firecracker from across the street or from a chair falling backwards with the wind.

I’m easily startled.

As much as I love how connected we all are through the technology webs, I am also overwhelmed sometimes by

sadness.

Death, sickness, loss, hunger, pollution, destruction.

Hurricanes, typhoons, murder, suicide, bullying, anorexia, drug overdose, car accident.

Cancer, anaphylaxis, SIDS, amputation, chemical warfare.

Cancer.

The photographs, the videos, even the messages of love and care sent from strangers to other strangers.

They all hurt my heart.

My heart can’t hold the sadness, though it’s soft with compassion,

it’s too too thin for the empathy.

And while sometimes my heart can hold it all,

Other times it feels filled up.

Like right now.

Tragedy, one-degree removed,

is life at 40.

Until it’s tragedy, no degree removed.

It was like this, I imagine, for my mother and her mother.

At 40, you start to know sick people, and people caring for sick people, and people who have lost people.

And you start to be afraid you are soon going to be one of those people. Or more than one. All three.

I am afraid.

And while I know that my fear is not a new one, not one invented by me or my generation, there’s something so much more vivid about this knowledge when it’s brought to you in full-color, in a row of announcements on the monitor in front of you via social media

every day, every few hours, every touch of a button

it’s there.

I need a newsfeed of life.

Call me naive, call me ungrateful, call me callous, call me whatever you like, but this is what I need.

A newsfeed of life.

Is blogging the new MFA program?

Before I was in high tech, I was in publishing.

At Scholastic, I worked in the creative marketing department, not directly with authors, but with their work; trying to make their work appeal to the largest audience as possible.

My claim to fame is that I wrote responses to fan letters for R.L. Stine and K.A. Applegate. So if you came of age in the late 90s, we were probably pen pals.

I also was a part of the exciting marketing campaign surrounding the release in the U.S. of the first Harry Potter book.

Good times.

After I left Scholastic, I spent a few years in other publishing jobs: in the promotions department at Parade Magazine and as an assistant editor for a Jewish newspaper.

I soon became expert in making other people’s work better.

Of course, through this experience, my work became better, too.  In addition to assigning and editing stories to freelance writers at the Jewish newspaper, I would report on local happenings and sometimes interview C-level Jewish celebrities for features.

Every time my boss, the Editor, would hand me back my first draft, I would grimace at the red marks in the margins.

But the marks, when implemented, always made my stories better.

In time, I became a confident writer of short form non-fiction. Your work becomes better the more you write and the more heavily you are edited.

I imagine the process is similar for any form of writing; especially in fiction and poetry, two genres in which I am experimenting and want to improve.

This is why so many emerging writers and published novelists come out of MFA programs.

They’ve dedicated themselves to writing, yes — but they’ve also committed to being publicly criticized for two years in the hopes of improving. In the hopes of one day being so good they will be noticed. Noticed like a misused metaphor, like a dangling participle.

This element of the writing program — the communal critical eye — is missing from the fantastic writing community that is the blog-o-sphere.

I never — or hardly ever — publicly criticize a blogger’s work. If I add a comment to a blog, 99% of the time it’s a positive comment. If it’s a negative comment, it’s finely worded so as to not offend the author.

I’m not talking about political blogs, where trolls feel completely uninhibited to offer their frank opinions about how the author is a stupid, naive right-wing psychopath. I’m talking about the community of essayists that have sprung up through the popularity and ease of the blogging platform.

Mommy bloggers.

Aspiring novelists.

Flash fiction writers.

People who feel the need to chronicle the every movement of their cats.

Everyone can be a published writer now.

A published author even — thanks to Amazon.com and a host of self-publishing software.

And, yes, this is awesome.

Really awesome.

And … not so awesome.

I like to read good writing.

I like to pay for good writing.

I’m annoyed when I read bad writing, especially when I’ve paid for it.

I want the books I read to have been written by people who cared enough to become better writers. I want those books to have been through at least one, if not five, careful revisions by an editor.

I say this not just as a writer, but as a consumer of the written word.

Maybe I hold myself up to too high a standard. (That sounds obnoxious, I know. )

Maybe if I didn’t, I would already be a published author myself now. (I’m not counting The Fantastic Adventures of Me & My Friends or the two other activity books I wrote for Scholastic. That also sounds a bit obnoxious, doesn’t it?)

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing.

Maybe the world is a happier place because more people are writing and finding their own audiences.

But I think there is room for criticism in the blogging world. Perhaps we would do more to support each other by not just commenting when we think a post is good, but when we think a post is almost good — when something could be just a little bit better if only it was rewritten once or twice.

It irritates me when I write a post that I think is really good and a commenter writes something simple like,

“Lovely.”

This happens a lot. Which should be a good thing.

But I want to follow up on that “lovely.” I want to know, “Why?”

“Why do you think this is lovely?”

Did it strike a chord?

Was it my careful phrasing?

Was it how elegantly I described the herd of goats by the side of the road?

And how could it be better? How could I rewrite it into something you’d be happy you paid for? Satisfied you spent your time on?

This is what is missing from the blogosphere. And why, at least now, blogging in community will never be as serious as a writing program.

Most of our comments are just blatant attempts at trying to attract new followers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Are you a blogging writer who seeks comments like this? Who wants more than just a

“Great post!”

If so, let me know — perhaps we can build a more critical commenting community together.

Help each other… emerge…from red marks in the margin.