While waiting in line, there was a man that decided to grab everyone's attention. He tried to cause trouble where there was none, started yelling at people. Few minutes later, a gentle giant of a security guard came in to escort him outside. There was no fuss, he followed the man.
The moment he exited, people started throwing remarks. Some called him a fag, a disgrace, some racial slurs started flying over. All the while, the security guard was outside with the man, having a very calm discussion. Suddenly it was my turn to be served. I walked out of the line, and turned back and it was all quiet. Everyone was back to their own business just waiting in line. I couldn't tell you who said what comment. Looking outside the man and the security guard were gone and I can't, to the best of my attempt, remember the face of the guy causing trouble. It was as if nothing had happened.
I can't even prove it to you, dear reader, that this even happened. It was an event without an audience.
On the web however, when one of those racist, derogatory, sexist, or controversial comments are made, you can point exactly to who said it. You don't get to forget it because you can re-read it as many times you want until your blood boils. It might even be an anonymous account, but you get to read it, you get to respond to it, and others get to see your response.
Whether you get on your white horse and try to shut this troll down by saying good things, or equally bad things, it will not be an anonymous act. The audience will be watching and reporting back.
Unlike the offline world, your audience get to clearly read what you say. They can add their own tone to it or misinterpret it but it's there to stay. When I was in line, there were some words that were said that I couldn't really catch because they were uttered a little further down the line. But on the web, I can read them all. The coherent just like the incoherent ones, all with the same weight. Might have been just a joke, or a banal remark, or a someone mistakenly typing on twitter instead of a private facebook conversation, it will read in the same format as a well crafted article. And the emotional impact will be just as great.
So when you write something on the web, it might be just you and your friends having fun. But remember that it won't be seen as that by the greater audience, because you do get an audience. One day, your little remark will be treated with the same significance that we give the Rosetta Stone. Thread carefully.
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