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Scrolling through a Facebook feed the other day,
I happened upon the picture below, an apparent quote from Larry Winget, whom has some inspirational terms but his commentary on “whining” or “being a victim” may be taken out of context by some…

to college students

“To College Students” via WordPress

It was shared by one individual whom I know to enjoy taking in a variety of views and challenges and reflects on them practically and will share their thoughts respectfully. The same picture was also shared by one individual who frequently posts articles and pictures against refugees, Muslims in Canada, denying white privilege, supporting gun use and has a confederate flag in pictures… not surprisingly, I’ve long debated deleting the latter individual, but at times see the value in being aware of different, albeit hurtful opinions, which I recently learned is avoiding the Echo Chamber Effect. Thanks Mike Rugnetta for this term! How often do we see the duality and overlap in an idea/quote between separate ways of thinking yet manipulated for own gains. One used it to challenge thoughts and break down barriers, the other used it to justify actions and comments that attack (“offend”) others (devil’s advocate could say this is simply my opinion, but given the context you may be inclined to agree). The reality is that some ideas are worth getting offended about and make us create change but some of us may be fighting for the wrong side. Why are some individuals on, what I consider to be, the wrong side? And do they have any grounds in justifying what appears to be digital racism?

Applying it to education
As educators, we are fortunate enough to be exposed to the ideas and negative underlying contexts present in our society be it sexism, racism, and much more, but outside education, others aren’t necessarily exposed to this information and thoughts. Some even resist it violently online… resorting to online harassment to combat challenging ideas or notions (more on the normalcy of online harassment later). Could this be due to post-secondary education, much like its apparent correlation between democrats and republicans? Educators are fortunate enough to be exposed to these ideas and have the responsibility to address these in the classroom. Our duty is to foster the challenging of beliefs and ideas in a classroom.

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Photo Credit: Emily Kidd2012 via Compfight cc

Beliefs when challenged however, can be taken to extreme lengths to be justified or manipulated, much like in my story above. Some of which may be devoid of critical thought processes. It can be justified negatively in one of two ways, either through stating that “I have a right to my opinion” and they celebrate the defiance of it, or simply say, well I was proposing this idea simply to “troll” others who get too worked up about it. As stated above, conversely, one of these individuals could use the above paragraph to describe/be against what I may believe as well. Where is the line? Hypothetically, were I to share this to my Facebook feed, I would expect those who believe it would support me and like it, which may perpetuate my belief, but the same networks and Echo Chambers exist for both sides. Why can’t both be okay? Where is the line between harassment and free speech? What’s the difference?

The difference is empathy. One side welcomes acceptance, while the other resists it. Some beliefs,when they pertain to human rights, typically when ignoring them, are not okay anymore. Not in Canadian society. And the online harassment of females and its normalcy displays a disheartening reality in the digital world.

It is never appropriate to use slurs, metaphors, graphic negative imagery, or any other kind of language that plays on someone’s gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. – Matt Rozsa

Normalcy of online harassment
I still recall freaking out at the age of 10 in the year 2000 about a random individual on the online game, Starcraft, who threatened to “find me and kill me” (it was because I won the game, no big deal). Terrified, I ran to my older brother about it to show him and he quickly assured me that “that’s just how it is, don’t worry.” And from then on I began the numbing process to online harassment that is shielded by anonymity, which I’ve previously made reference to, and Ellen Lague addresses the pros and cons in her article. It wasn’t an new idea sixteen years ago, let alone today. And I don’t really belong to a marginalized group or have been targeted due to my identity!

“A death threat is like waking up in the morning. Just something that happens to me, happens to all of us.” –boogie2988

Whether it’s in comments, videos, or pictures, a lot is said in what is shared on social media, and who people attack or “troll”… and the repercussions can be lethal. Solution?We need to take “offence” and challenge it. Trolling, harassment and doxing happens to famous figures, like gamer and The Guild star, Felicia Day, and takes an insidious and subconscious toll. Her story highlights the study-supported bulls-eye on women specifically in social media. We can attempt to numb ourselves and prepare for the ensuing harassment considered “inevitable”, but even that notion needs to be challenged. Why is numbing okay? How do we challenge that? Do we police comments? If learning can take place perhaps over time comment-policing isn’t necessary.

Why care?
Why does all this matter? Because while many may lose faith, and with many instances of hellacious harassment it can be easy to see why that happens, I wholeheartedly believe that society is moving past bigotry. Since more individuals are able to voice their opinions online we may see more of the dark side of society than we’d like, but it’s a dark side of society that has been present for a long time. We don’t have to be okay with it. It just makes our problem visible, which can be easier to fix. Whether you hear it in the language of individuals of past generations or those who take pride in being abusive by saying they are “old-fashioned” ultimately, some things need to be taken offence to. And taking offence isn’t being “sensitive”, it’s having compassion for other human beings. Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” provides a great narrative on the intricacies of pursuing this and, as Katia put it, “we’re on the right track”.

Agree? Disagree? Have you had similar experiences? Your thoughts?

Logan Petlak

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