Thursday, UNC students got another reminder to mind what they say online.
It started when junior defensive end Quinton Coples posted a Tweet disparaging gays. His apology, posted a few hours later, wasn’t much better: “im not aginst gay people im just heterosexual.”
Reaction against Coples’ tweet was swift. Steve Kirschner, the athletic department’s spokesman, said at first he hadn’t seen the tweet but “clearly, it’s inappropriate.”
That’s the right response, and now we all have an opportunity to learn from Coples’ mistake.
News reports from the last few months are filled with stories of students who have killed themselves after being bullied. Before their deaths, these teens were tormented by their peers for being gay, or sometimes for “acting” gay.
One of those students was Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped off a bridge to his death after his roommate secretly filmed and broadcast a sexual encounter. At Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island, openly gay Raymond Chase hanged himself in his dorm room. All told, at least five gay students have killed themselves in the past three weeks.
If that number doesn’t alarm you, it should. It should serve as a constant reminder to all that what we say and write matters.
Online, it’s sometimes hard to remember that. It’s easy to think what you say won’t have an impact in the great abyss that is the Internet.
But what you say only has to matter to one person. To that one person, the one who reads the hate you spew and wrestles internally with the names people call him or her, what you say matters a lot.
I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter as community manager. I find value in what others say, and I love the way the sites bring people together and foster discussion.
At the same time, those online communities are only as strong as we make them. As participants, we have a responsibility to make those communities safe havens for everyone.
When you see a Tweet which disparages anyone because of what race they are, who they love, or what they believe, tell that person what they said was wrong. Stop following them.
When you see something offensive on Facebook, flag it as abusive and report the comment.
We must also take responsibility for what we say ourselves. Even protected accounts are only so private, and saying a hateful comment to a few people as opposed to many doesn’t make it any less hateful.
And when you come across someone who is a little different from you, take time to learn more about that person.
A day before Coples’ tweet, Chancellor Holden Thorp sent an e-mail to students and faculty expressing his sympathies over the deaths of Clementi and Chase.
Thorp implored students to “think about the impact of the choices you make when you share information about yourself and others. We have much to be proud of at Carolina, so let’s remember that this also means looking out for each other.”
Thorp couldn’t be more right. If we don’t look after each other, no one will.
Sara Gregory is a community manager for the Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior history major from Charlotte, N.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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