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Recently a Delta Gamma sorority sister at the University of Maryland sent an email threatening to "cunt punt" each of the other members of her sorority if they kept insisting on being "weird" and "boring." More recently, a University of Arizona student attended a sexual assault awareness event on campus with a sign that said "You Deserve Rape." Even more recently than that, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins Mike Wallace tweeted that he couldn't believe NBA center Jason Collins would want to be gay when there were all those beautiful women running around. These stories probably aren't news to you because each of them spent around 24 hours clogging your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The reason everyone posts and reposts these stories is because pouncing on discrimination is one of our favorite new Internet hobbies, even when that injustice is happening thousands of miles away from us at a university we've never cared about before. If it wasn't for Facebook and Twitter, these would never even be news stories at all, but we've all poured a lot of hours into meticulously honing social media into a weapon that we can aim at injustice, and it's a weapon we love to use because it satisfies our itch for self-righteousness.
"That's it, now point it right at those Dove soap ads that reinforce chauvinistic concepts of beauty."
While the Internet's constant insistence on political correctness can sometimes be grating, knowing that there are entire communities of people holding bigots, sexists, and assholes in general accountable is comforting. It was the Internet that refused to let the Steubenville rape disappear, and it was the Internet that wasn't willing to just move on when Amanda Todd was bullied into suicide. Every day we force each other to be more self-aware and make smarter choices, or else risk suffering the wrath of millions. But more importantly, we're making each other better people.
I'm certainly willing to slog through all the outraged posts about the Onion making a bad joke or Justin Bieber making a naive, adolescent mistake about the Holocaust, as long as it means that the same people aren't letting Todd Akin get away with suggesting that women can't get pregnant from rape unless they're secretly enjoying it. That's a tradeoff I'm happy to make.
Here, watch this video of a woman playing with a phone and faceplanting into a fountain.
Regardless of whether that lady was texting, updating Facebook, or trying to become foursquare mayor of K.B. Toys, she represents our greatest fears about technology: She loses sight of conspicuous threats in the real world because she's lost touch with everything around her. Thankfully, instead of getting turned to paste by a bus or stepping off of a cliff, we can all laugh because she only falls into some unsanitary mall water. Still, all the doom and gloom theorists who always warned us about our eager abandonment of real life in favor of a virtual existence finally have this video to point to and scream, "I told you so!" Or at least they could if their grandson happened to be home and willing to load the YouTube for them.
But anyone who panics that technology is isolating us from the real world and breeding antisocial behavior that tears at the fibers of society clearly has never seen how shockingly kind and supportive the online community is every day. Granted, there's a lot of negativity in forums and comment sections, but it's outweighed, or at the very least equalized, by the overwhelming philanthropy and selflessness everywhere else. People can find organ donors on Facebook, save lost dogs through Twitter, or fund hundreds of thousands of new businesses or artistic endeavors through Kickstarter. Had someone told me 10 years ago that they were building a website that would allow strangers to ask the Internet at large for thousands of dollars to fund the creation of a goddamn calendar of cats, I would have said it couldn't possibly work. But I underestimated the generosity of everyone with a computer.
All of that is possible because the heart of the Internet is altruism. It wasn't founded with a business plan, it was founded as a way for people to connect with one another, and that sentiment still rings true within the community that uses it. In one of the most uplifting TED Talks you'll ever see, Jonathan Zittrain explains how sites like Wikipedia can function as the eminent source of information online while simultaneously being exclusively crowdsourced by anyone who wants to post because the World Wide Web is dependent on random acts of kindness.
This whole system works because there's an unspoken expectation online that you make some effort to do good, and while sometimes people get confused about where to focus that good intention, the fact that everyone is so eager to help at all is heartening. So keep up the good work, [your name here], I'm sorry that I called you awful, especially when you're already planning to donate so handsomely to Michael Swaim and Cody Johnston's brilliant Kickstarter campaign, My Temple.