‘But It’s Just Facebook’

An Ohio firefighter who said horrible, bigoted things about gay people is using the oft-heard excuse that it’s all okay because it’s just Facebook, so it totally doesn’t count. I’ve heard people say similar things a thousand times and it never strikes me as anything other than stupid.

The July 3 post of a weeping child who is quoted saying, “I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me” sparked impassioned responses, including words of encouragement from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. George Takei and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome were among thousands who chimed in with “likes” and words of support for the youngster.

But 26-year Cleveland Fire Department veteran Guy Estergall threw his opinion into the mix of roughly 60,000 comments on the viral post.

“This kid needs psychiatric help, he’s delusional. We need to find a cure for his kind!” Estergall wrote in the comments.

In an apparent response to another comment, he wrote, “You’re mentally ill Andrew, just like this kid and the rest of the immoral homosexuals and their supporters,” NewsNet5 reports.

Continuing on, he wrote, “The overwhelming majority of pedophiles are homosexuals. You need to get the professional psychiatric help you need to become normal.”

Estergall told the station his comments were in response to a nasty exchange he got into, and he only meant to “get his goat” and “tick off” his opponent, who had started name calling.

“Was it childish? Of course. But this is Facebook, it was a ‘nothing’ thing,” he said in an interview with the station.

I’ve heard this argument constantly for the nearly 25 years I’ve been online. It’s just the internet! It’s just IRC! It’s just Facebook! It’s just Twitter! It’s just a blog comment! Just stop, for crying out loud. The internet is merely a means of communication. No one would think it’s okay to say vile or hateful or threatening things to someone and then say “But it’s just a telephone” or “It’s just radio.” The rules of reasonable, ethical behavior does not change when the medium does.

But you know what does change? The level of anonymity. And what’s the real reason why people think it’s okay to be vile assholes over the internet. Give someone anonymity, or the illusion of anonymity, and their real character may be very quickly revealed. That’s when they’ll say all the things they really think and wish they could say to someone in person but can’t because they’ll get their ass kicked.

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  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Give someone anonymity, or the illusion of anonymity, and their real character may be very quickly revealed.

    I had the illusion of anonymity, but then the spell wore off and mall security could identify the guy masturbating in the food court.

  • magistramarla

    And that’s exactly why I left FB. I have a redneck son-in-law who posts offensive things without thinking. I don’t want to hurt my daughter and grandson, so I never mentioned that her husband was the reason that I disappeared from FB.

    I was on FB to be able to see pictures of my grandkids, but I now much prefer that the parents just e-mail those pictures directly to me.

  • eric

    Repeat after me, Mr. Estergall: the scrollwheel is your friend.

    Modus @1: I hope you succeeded in your Saving Throb.

  • mithrandir

    When you’re threatened with death on Facebook, you’re threatened with death in REAL LIFE. Spooky.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017276335 Strewth

    eric @3, I don’t know if I love you or hate you for that.

  • themadtapper

    Reminds me of Penny-Arcade’s GIFT (Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory):

    Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

    A sound theory to be sure, but the underlying mechanism is the “normal” person. The sad fact of the matter is it’s a perfectly normal phenomenon that many if not most persons are in fact assholes, even if they don’t show it publicly. Anonymity and Audience are merely catalysts. I would suggest the GIFT be revised:

    Normal Person = Total Fuckwad

    Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Overt Total Fuckwad

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com Gretchen

    Give someone anonymity, or the illusion of anonymity, and their real character may be very quickly revealed. That’s when they’ll say all the things they really think and wish they could say to someone in person but can’t because they’ll get their ass kicked.

    ….whereas others of us say what we really think without anonymity, and are glad it’s not in person because we’d also get our asses kicked.

    Why, I’ve had people threaten to kick my ass right here in the comments at Dispatches, usually for implying or saying that they’re a bigot. Because kicking my ass would apparently disprove that somehow? *shrug*

  • Hoosier X

    Why, I’ve had people threaten to kick my ass right here in the comments at Dispatches, usually for implying or saying that they’re a bigot.

    Calling someone a bigot merely for saying bigoted things is violation of the First Amendment! (Unless of course the original speaker is a conservative calling someone an anti-Christian bigot or an anti-white bigot or a misandrist bigot.

  • http://tailotherat.blogspot.com namowal

    At least he didn’t pull out the “Gosh, everyone’s picking on me just because I have an opinion!” line. Or did he throw in that too?

  • Loqi

    Because kicking my ass would apparently disprove that somehow? *shrug*

    Silencing the opposition means they don’t hear any opposition which means there must not be any opposition which means they must be right, right?

  • eric

    Was it childish? Of course. But this is Facebook, it was a ‘nothing’ thing,”

    Was firing you a reaction to this? Of course. But this is firefighting; finding other qualified applicants is a ‘nothing’ thing.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    This is why I stay off the internet. Granted, being Amish helps.

  • Larry

    At least he didn’t pull out the “Gosh, everyone’s picking on me just because I have an opinion!” line

    Or the #1 goto apology: I’m sorry that people misinterpreted what I said

  • sugarfrosted

    @0, Ed is one of the old people that gets it! I recently saw a post on Facebook lamenting the death of print encyclopedias. So many older people were posting about how much more reliable they were than Wikipedia. This is counter-factual. The only reason why they believe it is because print is old media.

    @2, At some point they added an unfollow feature and a restricted list. I use them to not see what bigoted relatives have to say, but to keep connected with them if that makes sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    And next up, he’ll have a GoFundMe page.

    “They’re picking on me because I’m a Christian. Send me money.”

  • doublereed

    What does anonymity have to do with anything? Facebook isn’t anonymous.

  • doublereed

    This isn’t just a problem with Ed’s post, but also a problem with things like the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Sure, sometimes people are anonymous doing these things, and maybe that doesn’t help. But Facebook isn’t anonymous, and in other areas in the internet you’re not anonymous and this kind of thing still happens.

    Anonymity just has nothing to do with it.

  • llewelly

    Most people on facebook have nothing like anonymity. Either they’re using their real name, or you can find other social media accounts where they mention their real name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.g.phynn Jim Phynn

    I’m not hiding behind anonymity because I would say this to his face, but the person who needs psychiatric help, is Guy Estergall. That much anger and hatred just isn’t healthy…

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Forget it, Jake. It’s just Facebook.

  • eric

    Anonymity just has nothing to do with it.

    Yes and no. I think George Carlin’s “car/asshole” sketch pretty much encapsulates what’s going on here: the farther away someone is from you, the bigger an asshole they are…or at least, the bigger an asshole you feel comfortable calling them. Carlin used physical distance to make his joke work but here its something more like “social distance” – the likelihood you will have to confront or work with the person you’re insulting face to face at some future time. In terms of social distance, someone else commenting on an internet board you visit is pretty ‘far away,’ even if they aren’t anonymous. They are even ‘further away’ if you (the speaker) are posting anonymously. So internet anonymity contributes to the viciousness, but it isn’t the only factor and I think Ed’s general observation still holds good: this social distance or illusion of distance contributes to people calling each other assholes, just as physical distance did in Carlin’s skit.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    Don’t get hung up on the use of the term “anonymity.” Full anonymity is one end of a sliding scale — a scale that disconnects the speaker from the listener. At some point on that scale, assholishness takes over from the kind of self-censorship one applies when face to face. Whether someone is fully anonymous, or just separated by a ‘nym and some electrons, that separation emboldens a lot of people to say things that they would never say otherwise.

    There’s also the issue that fora like Facebook feel small. People are truly unaware of the reach of social media, despite many examples. What this bozo could have gotten away with saying to his drinking buddies is suddenly amplified and lots of people are aware of it. I’m sure that factor never entered his mind — he was saying it to his drinking buddies.

  • abb3w

    I’m not sure it’s exactly anonymity, though it’s in the close neighborhood.

    Regardless, this seems related to the ownership of expression; with internet pseudonymity or anonymity, the expression stands alone, with consequences unlikely to attach back to the speaker’s mundane person. It seems the flip side of “privacy” — exclusive control of one sort of information, precluding consequences from disseminating another sort of information.

    Restraint of the reflexive impulse to express hostility/contempt requires reflective ability; release of the restraint is in itself cathartic. Further response can challenge the expression, triggering new cognitive dissonance; the separation that anonymity and the like provides an insulation against this….

    Meh, not sure where I’m going with this.

  • caseloweraz

    Guy Estergall no longer believes it’s “just Facebook.” Evidence? The fact that his timeline contains nothing at all. He still has an account, however, by which we learn that he follows Ohio’s Ninth District Republican Caucus and the Catholic Saints group.