The dangers of tweeting without thinking

By Steven Gillard

Curt Schillings Twitter caught the attention of media after he responded to users' offensive messages about his daughter. (Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
Curt Schillings Twitter caught the attention of media after he responded to users’ offensive messages about his daughter. (Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

A few weeks ago, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling drew media attention after responding to Twitter users who tweeted obscene messages about his daughter. When Schilling congratulated his daughter for committing as a pitcher to Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, users chimed in with a variety of tasteless jokes, prompting Schilling to release the names and occupations of some of the men. One man, a radio host at Brookdale Community College, was suspended, and another lost his job as a ticket-seller for the New York Yankees.

While the Schilling story has since blown over, a similar story occurred this week when Bloomsburg University baseball player Joey Casselberry was kicked off the team after referring to Little League baseball star Mo’ne Davis as a “slut” on Twitter. While Davis has since expressed her desire to have Casselberry reinstated, Bloomsburg University has refused to do so.

Social media is often used as a form of venting. You’re angry, upset, fed up, so you type out a tweet or a Facebook status and hit send. After you finally have your thoughts out there, you feel better – people can finally understand how you’re feeling; you’re no longer quite so alone in your emotions, and that’s a comforting thing.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s looked back on previous social media statements and cringed at the idiocy of them. Whether it was an expletive filled rap lyric or a depressing statement subtly aimed at the girl I was crushing on, many of the things I once posted to social media baffle me to this day.

Luckily, most of the statements I’ve made on social media have been fairly innocuous, more embarrassing than harmful to my reputation. However, on more than one occasion I’ve posted borderline offensive content to social media that I thought was funny, only to shortly delete it after being met with backlash.

In the last few weeks of high school, three years ago, smack in the dawn of Twitter, the 400 members in my graduating class were sitting in the auditorium rehearsing the graduation ceremony. A pregnant classmate of mine who I didn’t know personally walked across the stage and I saw the opportunity for a timely joke. I whipped out my phone and sent into the Twittersphere, “Graduating while pregnant is a good look.”

Soon after, it was my turn to walk across the stage, and as I walked up to it I could feel my classmates eyes buried into the back of my head. Through an auditorium filled with smartphones, word had spread quickly of my tweet. Some people thought it was funny. Others thought it was offensive. A couple of my smarter friends told me I was an idiot. As I walked across the stage, I realized that since all my friends had seen my tweet in a matter of minutes, the girl who was the target of my insensitive joke would undoubtedly see it too. Fortunately, I was able to delete the tweet from my phone before it erupted into anything bigger, which would have almost certainly ended with me in the Dean’s office for cyberbullying another student.

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when there’s an opportunity for a good joke.  While the comments directed toward Curt Schilling’s daughter and Mo’ne Davis were in poor taste, I don’t think they represented any real malevolence or disdain. And while I am absolutely a fan of off-color humor, I think it’s something that should be done off-the-books, not on the web where anything you say can be saved for eternity.

The Internet is and should be a haven for free speech, but there is a difference between expressing your opinion and inconsiderately attacking a father or a 14-year-old girl. Say what you want on Twitter, but if you represent an organization or a university, expect to deal with the consequences.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]