Baumgarten: Would you eat a 5-pound bag of sugar?
Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. That’s exactly what I think when I see an online comment that is less-than-cooth. Usually I try to keep scrolling down. When I can’t, I tend to type a response just to vent and then quickly delete it before posting.
As the assistant editor, I am responsible for moderating conversations on Facebook. I can’t speak for all reporters, but I get pretty excited when the world icon on the Facebook tab turns red. Reporters want to know what our readers are thinking. Are they in favor of something? Does something upset them? Do they want to see change? We just want to see anything.
Be careful what you wish for. The Dickinson Press ran a story on Easter weekend about how churches were changing. In it, a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church said they held services in Spanish to accommodate the growing population.The story was interesting, and I thought people would like to read it. So I put it up on our Facebook page. I was right, but not in the way I thought.People were not happy that the church had services in Spanish. To paraphrase, they wondered why we had to pander to Spanish-speaking residents? They should have to learn English if they want to live here.I let the comments slide off my back. It boiled over and life went on as usual.Last weekend, we ran another story with a Spanish element. Northern Industrial Training’s boss in Dickinson — a multiple-tour Iraq War veteran and newcomer to the area, like many he is training — was offering to train oilfield truck drivers who speak Spanish. No one in the area had offered these courses, so the company thought it would be useful.One person didn’t. They left a comment on our Facebook link wondering how much crime would rise with the Mexican population. They had the same sentiments as the other comment, but they topped it off by saying if you can’t speak English “GTFO of my country.”Obviously, I deleted it. Our company has the right to delete online comments, especially if they are derogatory, inflammatory or use profanity.The conversation reminded me of the Super Bowl Coke commercial, where “America the Beautiful” was sang in Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. Many flew off the handle, appalled that an American song was sang in foreign languages. I heard one person say, “How dare they sing the National Anthem in Mexican. It was meant to be sang in American.”Note: The national anthem is “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I’m not going to touch on the Spanish debate (by the way, it is Spanish, not Mexican. Just like how American is also not a language.)The Spanish population is growing, just like other ethnic groups. Everyone has their opinion on whether we should require people to speak English or force our children to learn Spanish. If you want to get specific, as one of my Native American friends would say, maybe we should all learn to speak Mandan. After all, most of us came from Europe.And that’s why this column isn’t on what language we should speak. To prove it, I’ll bring up another subject. A few weeks ago, a plane carrying four people crashed into a wind turbine near Highmore, S.D. The four men were coming back from a cattle sale in Texas. Officials say the crash happened in the early hours of the morning, with winds gusting to 25 mph, fog and rain. All the passengers, ranging from ages 25-37, were killed.At first, my logical answer was a pilot that had experience would have known to check the weather. Otherwise, he would have not taken off. The pilot, his friends told reporters, was exceptional. I was once called heartless for saying the pilot should have never taken off.Maybe I wasn’t being smart when I said those words, but I was trying to be objective. Then I went online to see what others were saying. The comments ranged from, “Blame the dumb pilot, not the wind towers (sic) fault!” to “The pilot murdered himself & his passengers!! There is no excuse for this idiots (sic) pilots (sic) mistakes!”We don’t know what happened on that plane. Maybe an engine failed. Maybe something happened to the pilot. Maybe he did make a miscalculation. But we can’t and should not assume anything until an investigation is complete. To say a pilot committed suicide and murdered his friends, or to call him dumb just to say wind energy is cleaner or safer for the environment than oil or coal, is tasteless.The Internet has made it so easy for people to say something without repercussions. We can make up fake names, lie about where we are from and hide behind a profile picture of the back of a supermodel.We can say horrible, cruel things, and the worst that happens is the comment is deleted or someone responds with something even more vicious. I have no problem with someone saying something is true as long as it is done respectfully. But people that say hurtful things, especially when not showing their face, are not only ignorant; they are cowardly.So next time, think about what you post online. It’ll literally take you an extra 10 seconds to think of something more tasteful to say.The First Amendment gives you freedom of speech. You can also eat a 5-pound bag of sugar, but it doesn’t mean you should.
Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and read her blog at baumsaway.areavoices.com.