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Opinion: Words are impactful and the internet is forever

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A while back, I was watching an episode of “Shark Tank” that featured a young entrepreneur pitching an app called ReThink.

The app adds a barrier when texting, asking users to “rethink” whether they want to send a message if it contains words that might be construed as cyberbullying.

The idea is that, if users are given a second chance at reframing their words in a more constructive manner, they might do so, resulting in a more civil conversation.

I’ve been thinking about the concept lately as I peruse social media and become angered at the comments I find there. As Facebook “friends” undermine efforts to expand equality to black Americans and implement needed police reforms, I find myself scoffing and angrily closing out the app.

I’ve been tempted to respond unfavorably when I disagree, but I have chosen to ignore – or block – rather than get into arguments on the internet with people I know won’t change their minds anyway. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be speaking out. They should; I just have opinions about how my words should be used online. I don’t want to compromise my position as a reporter, for instance, as several Springfield Business Journal readers are on my friend list. And I’m worried I might say the wrong thing, due to my own ignorance.

I find myself wondering what leads people to post or share comments that are insensitive at best and racist at worst.

That thought again came to mind when Greg Glassman, ex-CEO of CrossFit, recently tweeted a post that has been widely criticized for undermining the black equality movement.

Glassman on June 6 responded to a post from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that stated “racism is a public health issue.”

“It’s FLOYD-19,” Glassman tweeted in response, referencing the killing of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to connect the two.

He later apologized, saying he made the connection because of the institute’s “invalidated models resulting in needless, economy-wrecking, life-wrecking lockdown” after he “saw they were announcing modeling a solution to our racial crisis.”

His point was not taken as such, and he resigned as CEO shortly after. His comments served to imply current equality efforts are temporary in nature, like COVID-19 and its impact on the economy. But the tweet came off as a tone-deaf bad joke, and though he’s apologized and exited the company, the damage to the brand is done.

CrossFit Springfield owner Jeremy Mhire is among those nationwide affiliated with the corporate brand who is moving to cut ties after Glassman’s comments.

Another incident was detailed in a June 5 Newsweek article. The CEO of the Holy Land gourmet grocery chain in Minnesota fired his own daughter over racist comments she made years earlier on social media. The past comments, according to the report, were brought to light days after the killing of Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.

In this moment in history, such comments are a reminder of the importance of words. Further, it’s a good indication that if you’re not positively impacting equality efforts with your comments online, you’re not doing anyone any good.

Consider that when you sit down for your next tweet or Facebook post about current events. You might get a few likes, but was your post really worthwhile? Did it benefit society in some way? For businesses, consult a marketing specialist before making posts online about current events. Your response should be tactful and compassionate, if you choose to make one.

Beyond just the current moment, it’s important to remember the longevity of comments posted to the internet. Once it’s out there, it can be near impossible to take it back.

Employers are looking at your social media history when considering whether to hire, and the same is true for other business partnerships or personal relationships.

The internet isn’t temporary. Posts made online can live on indefinitely, and time and again, they can come back around to bite individuals.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

Comments

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Randy Baker

Good words of advice for the wise, Geoff!

Tuesday, June 16
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