The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Time to toss our online trash-talk in the garbage

- Susan Campbell Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborho­od,” “TempestTos­sed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamenta­lism, Feminism and the American Girl.” She is Distinguis­hed

On a recent night, when sleep was not to be found, I began scrolling through Twitter. It wasn’t doom-scrolling, I promise. I’d been away from my phone and figured I would catch up on the news.

And then I noticed that Vice President Kamala Harris had posted something about the dangers of school bus diesel exhaust.

Innocuous, right? That isn’t something about which we would expect a heated debate, but then I looked at the comments and boom! Right at the top, the rats had come skittering out of the sewer to graphicall­y ascribe to the vice president certain sex acts that have absolutely nothing to do with schools or buses.

This kind of pivot always gives me pause, when a political conversati­on is wrenched from its place and thrown into the gutter. Were we, in fact, talking about sex? Was the original conversati­on in code and I missed it? Or is this just more offerings from a private in the social media army who lives coated in Cheetos dust in Mom’s basement, and takes ever opportunit­y to introduce his man-parts to the online public. There’s a name for that.

So I reported a few of the more egregious comments. I do the same thing when I’m out for a walk. I pick up trash and find a receptacle. It makes for a nicer world. I don’t expect a reward for my diligence, but on Twitter, I always leave one word after the offensive tweet, “Reported.” That’s my way of not talking about someone behind their back and if Twitter responds accordingl­y — puts the person who posted something vile into a corner until they remove the offensive tweet(s) — that person can thank me later.

I’m not the church lady. I know all the cuss words, but your freedom of speech must not cross at town line of community standards. In my community, we do not wish upon someone an unwanted sex act, which in real life is rape or sexual assault. And if that rank disappoint­ment Elon Musk won’t do his job, well, then, it’s up to us frequent users to make an effort to pick up the trash. I don’t report someone on Twitter every day. I have a life, but it beats doom-scrolling. You log off thinking you just might have had a positive impact on a troubled social media platform. You’re welcome, world.

The next morning, I’d attracted the ire of a nameless, faceless dude who asked if the offensive tweets had hurt my feelings. I replied that they hadn’t and I suggested he stand down, as no one had pulled his chain to draw him into this particular conversati­on.

The vice president is a unique Twitter target for this kind of attention because in the long-ago she dated other politician­s and small minds have long memories, but you’d be challenged to find any woman who spends even a minute on social media who hasn’t gotten a peek at some disgusting online nonsense coming her way. Does that hurt my feelings? No. I grew up with brothers. I know exactly what wilting language to use, but I don’t get into long conversati­ons with faceless, nameless dudes on social media. I wise off, and then I mute them. Let them shout their vulgaritie­s (or share their penises) to and with themselves, but had, say, owner-of-a-Twitter-blue-check @TexasTrow — a “2A loving Texan” from the Dallas-Fort Worth area — and I met in real life, I would have expanded my answer.

Mainly, Trow, the only feeling I have when a man-boy throws an online conversati­on into the gutter is rage. I am 64 next birthday, and I have long since grown tired of a man-boy whipping out his penis in the middle of what could be an interestin­g conversati­on about electric buses, or homelessne­ss, or mental health. The man-boy bleats, and then the conversati­on stops while we attend to his little online tantrum. It advances nothing. It makes the man-boy look stupid. And it’s a waste of time. I have abandoned the lessons of my girlhood, the ones that advised me to ignore bad behavior so that it will go away because it doesn’t go away. I figured that out long before the internet.

So, to the privates in and of the online army who think this behavior is acceptable: Look down at your lap. It’s not a wand, boys. It isn’t nearly as powerful as you imagine. It doesn’t make the rest of us having an adult conversati­on cower or swoon, especially when it’s attached to a man-boy. So tuck it away, go read a newspaper and maybe even a book and then we can chat. Until then? Reported, as much as I possibly can. And if your feelings get hurt by that, well, talk to the wand.

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