After nearly ten years in market research, I understand in data-driven detail how social media seduces us. It hisses an irresistible promise of digital notoriety from a pulpit of total anonymity, flattering us with an addictive stream of followers, likes, comments, reposts and retweets. By the time we look up from our screens, we’ve become accessories to the riveting statistic that every day, Americans spend over eleven hours in front of a screen.
Patience. Civility. Reason. Check my “click-and-run” sarcasm at the door. As I enter the Twittersphere, I cling to these guiding principles with the delusions of an alcoholic promising to have only a single drink. Then predictably, after a handful of clicks, I’m swinging wildly in digital bar fight, where getting in the last word is the only word anyone ever seems to care about.
My come-to-Jesus moment came in a recent brawl with a self-professed evangelical. The tweet that tweaked me, especially given his alleged heavenly affinities, was one that vigorously supported Trump’s continued draconian restrictions at the border, lauding how successful family separations have been in deterring “illegals.” It praised Trump for protecting American families with the “tough love” that the administration’s border policy embodied. Christians, he claimed, were righteously protecting their way of life.
In hindsight, only two responses made sense. The first would be to ignore the tweet. The second, and without sarcasm or preaching, would be to draw on my Episcopalian roots and underscore that the core tenets of Christ’s teachings involved love and inclusion – without exception. That response might lead to introspection. Yet the more I reread his tweet and marveled at the implausible number of his followers, the more it called to me like the school yard bully cackling “chicken, chicken, chicken…”
Building on my Jewish father-in-law’s fall back line, “they don’t make Jews like Jesus anymore,” I responded: “When one of the most famous Jews of all time preached to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ there were no caveats.”
Moments later, he tweeted back, “No way Jesus was a Jew asshole.”
Before patience, civility, or reason could even blink, I immediately tweeted a request for clarification. There was no comma after the word “Jew.” Determined to publicly smite him at both a theological and grammatical level, I asked if he was simply asserting that Jesus was not an asshole, and if so, suggested he not use the word “Jew” as a qualifier. Or, was he taking issue with Jesus’s heritage and targeting me with the A-bomb?
The subsequent deluge of comments from him and his followers predictably devolved into a rabid backwash of anatomically improbable threats, with assurances that I – a libtard, queer, elitist, and combinations thereof – would burn in Hell. Then, in the throes of penning one of my self-righteous retorts, I heard my own voice audibly dictating my response. Startled, I clicked away from the brawl. I turned the other tweet and deleted the conversation.
One loose social thread, and I had come apart at the seams. The road rage of the information highway had consumed me, with the allure of beating someone down trumping any interest in lifting anyone up. My quips had hardened the irretractable views of a hardliner and were less prone to helping a person see the light, than leaning on the horn is to changing the rush hour traffic pattern in downtown Manhattan.
Digital melees, pushed to the top of our feeds by algorithms, feast on anger. They lure us in, then leave us duped, distracted, and divided, the lifeblood of an unhinged America. The Jesus tweet nudged me to a higher calling. Though temptation beckons, I’ll strive to stay on the path of true discourse, replacing “dictate” with “listen,” and ”retaliate” with ”restraint.”
My name is Ed. It’s been three days since my last twitter tirade.