Bigotry Online is Still Bigotry

I read a lot, including books, newspapers, magazines, and blog posts. And I read a lot of Facebook posts from people I know. Some of them enlighten me. Some of them amaze me. Some of them disgust me.

I am a great fan of social media. I am on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Twitter (and I may have left a few out.) I feel fortunate to have been able to reconnect with a number of people from my past through social media. Some of them are people I used to work with in one setting or another, and some were long-ago friends or classmates. But here’s the thing about social media: not only do you connect with people, you often learn a lot about what they believe by watching their posts. Are they liberal or conservative? Are they avid fans of certain TV shows? Are they parents or grandparents? What are their hobbies or interests? Do they travel a lot?

Here’s the other thing about being actively engaged in social media: you will not always like everything you read. Some of what I have learned about my online friends is that they have strong beliefs that may be diametrically opposed to my own.

Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I will repeat that for emphasis and because I very strongly believe it: Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I will respect your right to believe what you believe, and I expect the same level of respect in return.

Believing what you want to is not the same as bashing others just because you have a platform to do so. It does not mean you should engage in name-calling online just because it feels more anonymous. It does not mean you should post links or comments that will purposely hurt others or that are meant to degrade some segments of the population. Bigotry is bigotry, bullying is bullying, and hate is hate; no matter what your platform is or whether you try to couch it in your religious or political affiliations.

We do not have the right to judge one another for our beliefs. We can, however, choose to associate with or not associate with people whose behavior we don’t like. In all of my years online, I have “unfriended” just one person, and that was not because our beliefs didn’t match up. It is because their social media posts were so consistently negative that I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. Most of us have enough negativity in our real lives that we don’t need to be bombarded with everyone else’s all the time, too.

So here’s my choice – if your online behavior is bigoted or bullying, I will unfriend you. Online, I don’t always think it’s healthy to get into a written dispute, so I may not always choose to call you out on these behaviors when I see them. In other words, I will not engage in a written argument by responding to your posts. But if we were face to face, not only do I think you would be less likely to say these things, but I would be very likely to begin a verbal spar with you. I would not put up with what I see as bad behavior either in person or online.

In case you’re wondering what prompted me to write this today, here it is. You say you don’t have to “tolerate” the “sin” of gay people, but do you even know who they are? In a room full of people can you tell who is gay and who is straight? Maybe sometimes you can, but not always. In fact, I’m going to bet that in many cases you can’t. And even if you could tell, what difference does it make? They are people, with real feelings and real relationships and real families, and they didn’t choose to be gay or to live a gay “lifestyle” any more than they chose to have brown or blue eyes, and your judgement simply does not count for anything.

And even while I am involved in a lot of social interaction online, I also make a point of living in the real world. So if your virtual behavior is bigoted we won’t be hanging out for real either. Inclusion and kindness count with me.