Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Internet Giveth, the Internet Taketh Away

There have been times when I thought about running for office. I'm reasonably honest, I care about people, and I might be able to make a difference.  I also think I could pass the vetting process--  unlike some politicians with scandals in their past, my life has been somewhat tame.  I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't use drugs (I really do remember the 60s). I've been married to the same guy for 28 years, haven't broken any laws that I know of, and I even pay my parking tickets, on the rare occasions when I get one. So, it should be smooth sailing for me, am I right?

Actually, no.  Whether I'm honest or kind or law-abiding, to be a successful candidate these days means raising millions of dollars, even for local races. In our post-Citizens United world, when unlimited cash from anonymous billionaires dominates the electoral process, it's almost impossible for an average person like me (average = not a millionaire) to get any traction.  I could have the best message, the best ideas, but without lots of cash, nobody would know I exist.  And even someone with a good reputation can still have enemies-- it doesn't take much to get some folks upset.  Years ago, people who were upset with someone talked about them behind their back or tried to spread rumors.  But that was then.  This is the world of the internet, when one rude remark can travel all over the world, and one accusation can grow to twenty times its size in seconds.  In such a world, anyone can suddenly become the object of scorn.

Politicians know this all too well.  A rude remark by a campaign staffer, a gaffe at an event, even something that never happened but someone claims it did... years ago, you could control the damage or keep it tamped down.  But these days, it doesn't take much to get Twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere exploding with "the news" of the latest outrage.  Suddenly, the mainstream press is reporting on it, and instead of focusing on your talking points or your message, you are explaining what you really said or what you meant to say or what actually happened.  And then the next outrage occurs, and the next trending topic, and the next.  So not only does today's candidate have to be extremely wealthy (it takes money to fund those attack ads that refute the accusations against you and make accusations against your opponent), but he or she has to be perfect-- never saying anything wrong, never looking upset or impatient, never making an unintended gaffe.  And if a candidate fails in even the slightest way, the online world is ready to take that person to task, instantly and angrily. Personally, I can't imagine why anyone would want to endure the modern political campaign... Perhaps for some, the thought of having power is worth going through all the aggravation.  But as for me, while I like to win, I guess I lack the "killer instinct."  (And I certainly lack the money.) So I guess the "Donna for congress" banners will have to wait.

A final thought on an entirely different matter, although related to the internet world.  This past week, we saw once again the power that the online universe has.  As most of you know, Indiana (and to a lesser extent, Arkansas) became battlegrounds in the debate over so-called "religious freedom" laws.  We can debate the need for such laws, but many of us believe these Orwellian regulations are really about allowing conservative Christian business owners to deny certain services to gay people (I discussed the issue in an earlier post). Wherever you stand on RFRA laws, one story fascinated me:  a woman named Crystal O'Connor, whose family owns a pizza shop in Walkteron, Indiana, told a reporter that as a Christian, she could never cater a same-sex wedding because it violates her religious beliefs.  What happened next, as it often does in stories about the culture wars, was sadly predictable: the online world exploded, at first in outrage over what were perceived as bigoted remarks.  Then the story received news coverage in the mainstream media, and the store owners began to receive death threats; food reviewers trashed the store; endless rude tweets about the owners were posted, etc etc. Memories Pizza had to close due to all of the furor.

But while sometimes the internet attacks, sometimes it defends. A conservative website (The Blaze) and several conservative commentators (including Glenn Beck) led the defense; a GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for the owners, and suddenly, there were numerous comments, tweets, and blog postings in support of Memories Pizza, and their owners' freedom of speech.  In the end, donors raised $800,000 on their behalf. I'm hopeful they will use some of that money for a worthy cause (if they won't feed gay people at a wedding, perhaps they can donate pizza to the poor or the homeless?); but I found myself somewhat glad the story had a happy ending for the pizza shop:  don't get me wrong; I don't agree with their views on gay marriage.  But I also don't agree with outrage and rudeness (on both side, I might add) whenever someone says something controversial.  Death threats because you don't agree with someone?  Really?  I wish the owners felt differently about marriage equality, but they did have the right to express their feelings. That said, I hope there won't be too much gloating over what seems to be a win for the conservative point of view.  Public opinion can turn all too quickly.  In the online world, it doesn't take much to go from a hero to a clown... or from a clown back to a hero.  The internet giveth, the internet taketh away.


  1. Predicable blather that says nothing. Why waste the bits and bytes on this kind of juvenile ruminating ? Isn't there something - anything - new that could add to the conversation ? Same old story: you react to what someone says. Big deal. That has been going on since day one.

  2. Sorry Anonymous, but I beg to differ with you. Referencing an old proverb, I appreciate Donna is at least trying to be part of the solution. The simple fact that Donna's thoughts are not new does not mean they are not worth expressing and discussing. I sincerely wish that more people with greater influence would repeatedly say the same things Donna is saying, and perhaps get this country headed in a better direction. Expressing meaningful and positive opinions (even if they are not "new") is part of the solution, whereas anonymously scoffing at the wise is part of the problem.