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Posts Tagged ‘social media abuse’

You’ve probably seen the headlines this week about Leelah Alcorn. The suicide note posted on Tumblr went viral in a matter of hours after **his/her death. It was shocking to watch social media blow up with this story and even more so to read the malicious, hateful comments about the grieving family left behind. Compelling as it is to call for better discussions about transgender issues, the media and most of the people commenting have taken away the liberty of Leelah’s family based solely on a letter written by a teen suffering from depression, and they’ve done so without having all the facts.

I get it. I’ve been there.

In 1999, I watched in horror as the news reported the shooting at Columbine High School. I knew a student there and practically shook with relief when we heard she was safe. It didn’t take long for the community and the media (and me) to cast stones at the shooter’s parents. What kind of parent would let their child have access to weapons? What kind of parent didn’t understand how sick their child was and get them help? What kind of parent would allow their child be bullied to the point where they decided to plan a massacre? Was there abuse in the home? Or neglect? Surely the parents held some (or most) of the blame. I watched as reporters swarmed their neighborhoods, trying to get a glimpse of the families or a few words from neighbors. There was a complete disregard for their privacy, and somewhere in my head, I justified it. We, the public, had a right to know, didn’t we?

I confess, as I grappled with that tragedy, I judged the parents pretty harshly. I judged the school for not stopping the bullying, and the students for being the bullies. Then I judged Eric and Dylan for being hateful people. I couldn’t see past my anger and fear. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and wept at the thought of bringing him into a world where kids are gunned down in school. I felt bad for Eric and Dylan’s families, but I didn’t understand what they were going through. Was there some part of me that thought they deserved the bad press and condemnation? Such ugly thoughts went through my head when I was desperate for answers. Have you been there too?

You know who I didn’t judge? The media. They terrified parents when they grossly over-reported the casualties based on incomplete information. They interviewed traumatized students who hadn’t reconnected with their parents yet. There was a lot of false and biased reporting going on, but that’s not what sticks out in my mind all these years later. They were just trying to do their jobs, right? I so easily forgave that, but held on to my judgments of everyone else. I am glad I know better now.

Last summer, a friend of ours went to prison. We watched as the media reported false information about him, including the basic details of the charges. Then a reporter and cameraman from Channel 7 decided they had the right to stand on our friend’s porch and put the camera right up to the window to shoot footage inside their home. They stopped neighbors and questioned them about our friend’s children – their names and ages, if they seemed distraught. When they got a glimpse of the girls, they tried to question them about their dad. Picture that with me, reporters aggressively pursuing children at their own home. Shame on them!

We are being marketed to. Bad news sells, and we buy it. We watch and listen to it on TV and read it in the newspaper or on social media, and we make our snap judgments based on data that may or may not be true. Shouldn’t we expect reliable details over sensationalism from our media? And what about the shocking lack of accountability? When they do get the facts wrong, we don’t hear the corrected version or apologies for rushing to be the first to report a story instead of verifying what they’re reporting is actually true. They cover their butts by using phrases like “alleged” and “reportedly”.  Retractions, when they do exist, get buried. They’re never headline worthy. In the meantime, lives are changed or destroyed and reputations ruined over shoddy reporting. Even if the truth is later revealed, by then it’s too late. The damage has been done.

Responsible reporting is a tough job. The story has to pique the interest of the people and it needs to be done quickly so it’s not scooped by someone else. Perhaps a little more time is all a reporter needs so they can check their facts before going public. It’s the media’s job to make us feel the news they’re reporting. If they can hook us emotionally, we’ll keep coming back for more.

Hear me! Tragedy or conviction of an individual does NOT remove the rights of their family. They still have a right to privacy, and to choose how or if they interact with the media. Oftentimes lawyers and law enforcement request that families refrain from speaking to the media at all, especially when there is an ongoing investigation. The typical response is to punish the family for their silence, using phrases like “refused to talk to us.” Families are treated as if their lack of interaction is a sign of having something to hide.

A friend of mine said we tend to process the news by either consuming it or condemning it. My guess is you and I have chosen both of those routes depending on what’s being reported and whether or not we agree. We are all guilty of assuming that a quick snapshot of a situation gives us the full picture. We assume, and from our vantage point, we’re sure we’re right even without knowing the whole story.

Words have tremendous power. With just a few clicks of a mouse and some carelessly chosen wording, we (the people on the internet) become judge and jury, and we’re bold about it because we’re holding court from behind a computer screen. We don’t have to see the pain in people’s eyes, or hear the sobs that wrack their bodies. We don’t have to form responses for questioning children who don’t understand the cruelty in the world. We proudly boast of freedom of speech until someone opposes our opinion and we don’t want to afford them the same freedom.

We don’t always consider the consequences of wielding our weapons of words. I don’t believe our hearts are evil, we just don’t always think before we speak or type. Notice WE is my chosen pronoun. I am guilty, but I want to do better. I want to BE better. Because of what I’ve experienced through my reaction to the Columbine tragedy, my friend’s conviction and now Leelah’s story, I’m choosing to step into a deeper level of maturity. I’m going to work on my discernment and how I respond to such things.

You see, Josh/Leelah is my family. His/her mom is my cousin. Carla is a good woman who loves all of her children. She is well-liked in her community, yet she’s being called a monster who rejected her son. One media source reported “years of abuse” based on the suicide note. It’s an unfounded claim, but no one seems to care. Because she’s a Christian and wouldn’t allow her child to undergo a sex change at the age of 16, she’s been labeled a homophobic, strict, hateful mother. There’s a bigger picture than the snapshot blowing up news feeds.

We, the public, have done it again – swallowed everything fed to us even though the investigation is ongoing and we have no idea what will come out of it in the end. Because Josh/Leelah struggled with her/his gender identity, there are many who are viewing this as if it were a hate crime perpetuated by the parents. THAT is what has gained global media attention. Josh/Leelah’s suicide does not give the media license to harass the family and report false and incomplete information. We need to expect more from them, and from each other.

After Josh/Leelah’s death, someone created a Leelah Alcorn Facebook profile, hacked Carla’s Facebook account and sent friend requests and messages to her entire friends list, and began posting hateful messages to her from her dead child. Carla is bearing the brunt of the blame for Josh/Leelah’s suicide as if it were her choice to lose her beloved child in this horrific manner. Merciless internet trolls posted her phone number on the web and encouraged people to harass them and make them pay for “killing their child.”

What we’re not seeing in the media are the reports of them having to call the police because of people peeking in windows, or news of all the hate mail they’re receiving, or anything about the group who plans to picket at the funeral. The LGBTQ community is leading the way in this “fight for justice” yet all we’re seeing is hateful vitriol. Isn’t there a better way to further the cause than to treat a grieving family with such callousness? Doesn’t the hate speech and encouragement of violent behavior coming from them contradict their mission? How is it any different than those who use the same tactics against them?

There’s a petition circulating to try to force Carla and Doug to use the name Leelah on the headstone instead of Joshua Ryan Alcorn, his birth name. As if that’s a decision that should be made by anyone other than the parents, especially the parents of a minor. That is not up for public debate or decision. Why on earth would we think it should be? None of us would want others to cross that line into our personal business like that.

A few of my friends posted the Leelah articles on their Facebook pages out of concern for the way transgender conversations are handled in the Christian community. I have no problem with that. I too am concerned and saddened by the lack of love shown in a lot of these situations. I have many friends who identify themselves as LGBTQ. I have always done my best to love everyone regardless of their gender identity or belief system, and I don’t withhold my love and affection based on a set of religious beliefs. In fact, my set of beliefs is the larger context for how I love others and there is no room for anyone to be left out of that. I prove that over and over, publicly and privately. There are lots of Christians out there who feel the same way I do but we are often labeled and rejected before given the chance to show it. I welcome respectful discussion on this and any other topic, but I’d like to get back to the point of my post.

I want to encourage you to have discernment when you read or watch the news, and to firmly grasp your humanity as you remember the humanity of others.

Please think before you speak or type.

I didn’t know Eric and Dylan’s families, but the Columbine tragedy and my reaction to it shaped me. I am sorry I jumped to harsh, unfair conclusions based on what I heard and read. I saw them as one-dimensional people as presented by the media and didn’t let their grief touch me.

My friend who is in prison? I miss him terribly. I love his wife and daughters and I am investing in their family, loving them through a tough time and speaking out on their behalf because they can’t. The media trashed them when they did nothing to deserve it. They were collateral damage. There have been no corrections or apologies and they don’t expect them. The media kicked them while they were already down.

PLEASE don’t do the same to my cousin and her family. They’re deeply grieving the loss of their child and being judged and crucified by people who know nothing about them. People who feel justified in their cruelty and want to make them pay. There are three other children missing their brother today. I wish I could protect them from the ugliness of those who don’t feel these kids are off-limits. Imagine yourself in their shoes and the terrible grief they’re experiencing. Let your heart ache for their loss, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Josh/Leelah left behind a gaping hole in our family. There was no hatred for him/her. He/she was and is deeply loved.

The media is selling you a snapshot before the larger picture has been developed.

Don’t buy it.

**I chose to use both gender pronouns to honor Josh/Leelah AND his/her parents. There is no malicious intent behind my decision though it will undoubtedly upset some of you.

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