When the Founding Fathers established our system in the late 1700s and basic principles such as the right to free speech, I doubt any of them envisioned the Facebook Era.
Remember, that was a time when the main form of communication was a quill pen and crude paper.
Samuel Adams, for example, might have sat down and written a letter to John Hancock complaining about how the powdered wigs Hancock was wearing were hideously out of style.
Almost assuredly, Hancock would have fired back at Adams, telling him that his beer was not all it was cracked up to be — and in fact tasted like water from the footprints of a livestock yard.
Then Adams would have unleashed a verbal attack about how John Hancock wrote like a girl — especially his flowery, elaborate signature.
The point is, people who lived back then would have known who they were insulting, and vice versa; they would not have been signing their letters with secret names such as “Colonial Dude” or “Ole Wooden Teeth.”
Nor would they be launching insults using their real names from the safety of a computer while seated in front of the screen in their underwear in the middle of the night.
Sam Adams or John Hancock would’ve known that sooner or later, they would have to face each other, whether it was in the men’s room at Independence Hall or when they went to the cleaner’s to pick up their frilly linen shirts or funny-looking short pants.
Things are much different today, however, which I have noticed with increased frequency recently regarding Facebook responses to articles in The Mount Airy News or comments posted to stories on our website.
In the “old days,” not meaning the Colonial Era but post-Woodward and Bernstein/Watergate, if someone had a strong opinion on a story or issue, they were more apt to write a letter to the editor to make that opinion known. Typically, when someone sends such a letter, the recipient knows their identity, where they live and a daytime telephone number where they can be reached for verification.
However, contrast that to people who post comments to news stories using some handle meant to disguise their true identities. These remarks often are quite insulting about someone or some event in the news — in other words, what people would never even think about saying if they were required to use their real names instead of an ambiguous moniker.
Although I learned a long time ago that newspaper people must develop tough skins, those anonymous posters are still somewhat irritating to me. Because after all, when a reporter writes an article or column, his or her name is right there in black and white along with a phone number, email address, etc., and even our photos.
Almost as irritating are the Facebook junkies who launch immature rants every time something doesn’t go their way, a lot of whom seem to make it a habit of complaining about almost everything. You can write an article saying hungry children need food, and they’ll find something to criticize even about that.
While Facebook comments are accompanied by the posters’ names, there does seem to be an extra degree of boldness and a lack of inhibition involved which likely wouldn’t be the case with a man-to-man confrontation on the street.
Again, a person seated at a computer screen in their underwear in the middle of the night apparently thinks he or she is on top of the world.
All this is another reminder that while technology has evolved, human beings haven’t necessarily progressed along with that.
The situation has become crystal-clear during the recent controversy over a redevelopment plan in Mount Airy.
Of course, with any issue of that magnitude, there are naturally going to be differing opinions, but it seems to me that if one is not a cheerleader for the city redevelopment commission he is immediately lambasted — you guessed it, via Facebook.
Now this contradicts the way our democracy and guarantee of free speech is supposed to work. This system should ensure that even if people have opinions which are totally off the wall (certainly not the case with redevelopment critics), they should be free to voice them without attacks.
The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves over what has been happening in Mount Airy.
Just think of what Hitler or Mussolini would’ve done if they had Facebook at their disposal.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.