Editor’s Note: As I was working on my content schedule for the next few months ahead of the return of Major League Baseball, I came across a column that I wrote on November 7, 2022 but never posted.
Through the years I have written several columns that for one reason or another were never posted. As part of a semi-regular series called From the Vault, I will occasionally dust off these written but never posted columns and allow them to see the light of day. So, without further ado, fresh from my vault, here is the column that was originally meant to post on November 7, 2022. Sadly, many of the issues addressed are still relevant today.
The other day the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to become the 2022 World Series Champions.
It is the first title for the Astros since a cheating scandal tarnished their 2017 World Series crown like a line of trash cans littering a pristine alley.
Having given up my Astros fandom years ago, I did not plan to write anything about the Astros winning the World Series aside from perhaps a quick mention about how nice it is that Dusty Baker can finally call himself a World Series winning manager after a quarter century of falling short.
My desire to avoid writing about anything Astros related all changed when I saw an article from a local television station about two students getting arrested for making threats on social media related to the Astros World Series celebration parade.
First, a little background. Numerous school districts in and around Houston cancelled class on the day of the parade to allow students and staff to attend the parade.
The University where I earned my MS in Sport Management even joined the school skipping party, which I found to be particularly odd.
The fact that a parade for a winning sports team is considered worthy of cancelling school and other events, but we still do not have a national holiday on election day to ensure that everyone who chooses to vote can vote really says a lot about the priorities in this country. But that is a column for another day.
Today’s column is about two students at two different intermediate schools within the same district who felt slighted that their district did not see fit to cancel classes like so many other districts did.
I am in no way minimizing the role that sports can play on a young person’s life, or even the role it plays on an older person. One of my very first public speaking experiences captivating a crowd was leading a Super Bowl rally in front of my entire elementary school when I was in second grade. Many decades later, it is still a very fond memory.
The two students in the suburbs of Houston will likely not have fond memories of the steps they took to show their fandom for a sports team. The students took to social media and made comments about the district being open.
The comments were deemed to be terroristic threats which led to an increased police presence and other heightened security on campuses throughout the district.
Now, some people reading this will likely say that they were just “boys being boys” who they took things too far.
Of course, in a state where many students have taken actual violent steps on campuses like engaging in mass shootings, one does not get to have the luxury of saying they were just “boys being boys,” or even “girls being girls.”
Others may respond by saying that “everyone knows that social media speech isn’t real speech so no harm was done.”
To that I will say, many of the actual events of violence that occur on school campuses, grocery stores, synagogues, United States Capitol complexes, etc., first involved threats, or boosting on social media.
Still others will say, “sure the threats are bad and they shouldn’t have done it, but they will grow out of it.
To that I say, kids who post threats on social media can turn into adults who post threats on social media. One can also look at how comments made on social media regarding a certain rally in Washington D.C. back in 2020 had real-world consequences.
The social media genie is never going back in the bottle. Attempts to regulate content and try to limit threats and violence will continue to fall short leaving people to police themselves with what they say and do.
As I have said many times, as a journalist I am a huge proponent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the protections it offers regarding free speech.
What I am not a fan of, is people trying to use the First Amendment to justify hate speech and generally abhorrent rhetoric that has no place in a civilized society that claims to have been formed on “Godly principles.”
Unfortunately, hate speech will continue to fall under free speech and people will be left to monitor and censor their own speech by deciding what should and should not be said in a civilized society.
That is a very sobering and troubling thought.
This all brings us full circle back to the two middle schoolers in a pair of Houston suburbs who saw nothing wrong with posting a threat on social media because they did not get their way regarding having school cancelled, so they could go see a bunch of baseball players in a parade.
They will likely be charged as minors and will go about their life’s as if nothing happened once they turn 18.
For the rest of us, social media will continue to allow hate and threats to fester in the darkness like a rat hiding in a corner waiting to strike.
As a proud member of Generation X, I, like the generations before me, can recall a time before the internet and social media were the de facto communication methods.
The generations that follow will have had access to tablets and social media in many cases from the crib to the grave.
A failure to instill responsible means to use and regulate that technology among people who don’t know of a world before social media is critical to ensuring that a civil society does not morph into a society embroiled in a civil war.
That is the problem with threats made on social media, they have a nasty habit of sneaking into the real world and becoming actual events where people can be injured or even killed.
For a platform that calls itself a social media, there is definitely a lot of anti-social behavior going on.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to curl up with a nice book and forget about social media for a while.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson