Do you have a beard?
Since many, if not most, of you reading this are probably women, I would guess that you would answer “no” to that question.
..psst… If you are a woman and answered “yes” – they have products now that can help you.
But while many of us don’t have a beard in the traditional sense of the word, we do have a beard that falls under the following definition:
beard (bîrd) n.
One who serves to divert suspicion or attention from another.
It is called the internet. The world wide web. Online. Whatever you call it, a lot of people are wearing it as a beard when they log on.
Sometimes I think it is a positive thing for a lot of people, especially those with self-esteem issues or those who are painfully shy. They can log on and chat with people safely inside their comfort zone, make friends and maybe it will help them come out of their shell in real life. And even if it doesn’t, at least they have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships in online communities.
But a lot of people use the internet as a way to be someone they are not. Not only in the “I’m so much cooler online” sense, but also in the sense that they lose their inhibitions, do not think before they type and become totally unfiltered and uncensored. These people, who in real life would never criticize parenting skills, call people names or even think of voicing a dissenting opinion in front of a stranger are out there simply being mean.
There is no apparent accountability for these people. They sit behind their computers, somewhat anonymous because even if we know their real names, we do not know them, do not know where they live and really have no way to hold them responsible for their words. Calling them out publicly, at best stoops to their level and at worst brings them the attention they were looking for in the first place.
I believe in freedom of speech and I believe that it is something we should all stand up for, but I also think it is just as important to hold people responsible for their speech when it violates someone’s rights. We have bloggers being stalked and their friends and associates harassed simply because someone didn’t like something they wrote about. We have grieving parents being accused of neglect, judged and called names because they reached out for support in a way that people didn’t like.
We can’t let people get away with defaming someone’s character simply because they don’t like something they did or said. And we actually have laws to protect us against this very thing. It is called libel and if you write something that damages someone’s reputation you can get sued.
The internet makes it very easy to act first and think later, and more often than not, there are no repercussions for a person’s actions. Behind the veil of technology they are nameless, faceless and spineless. They can insult, judge, degrade, accuse, and harass with having to worry about looking anyone in the eye the next day. They can let it all hang out without fear of confrontation in “real” life.
That is not exercising freedom of speech, it’s simply being a coward.