There’s no place online where offensive words and imagery should be acceptable

The Internet is just as serious as the real world, and what you post and say there should matter just as much

Photo by Elena Hsu/The Peak

Written by: Gene Cole, Opinions Editor

One of the incredible things about the growth of the Internet is how much it’s become part of the real world. People everywhere are on it, looking at the same spaces through the same apps and talking about the same topics. It’s like a shared room for learning and entertainment, like a giant on-demand library and playground that we can all rely on.

So if you walked into a place like that in real life, would you spraypaint something pointlessly hostile or cruel towards someone on a wall? Probably not, but people seem to be doing the equivalent online and thinking it’s okay because it’s just the internet. But the Internet is as real as the ground we walk on, and offensive material has no right to exist on either space.

Nearly everyone has seen offensive posts online. Racist and sexist comments, disrespect towards victims of serious tragedies, offensive symbols, and unpleasant images are everywhere. Some can certainly be more immediately concerning than others — an innocent person receiving harassment and threats is probably more pressing than a disrespectful meme comparing local protests to Nazis — but they all have a shared effect of making people feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to feel that when they casually open up Facebook or Twitter in the morning.

And yet many of these posts still exist, justifying their pointless actions by saying what’s on the internet matters less, when that’s becoming less and less the case as it grows in popularity and public understanding.

After all, we all use the Internet enough lately that your online usernames might as well be on your driver’s license. Employers are constantly growing more likely to look through your presence on social media to find out more about you, meaning everything you do is likely going to be looked into at some point. Making fully private posts and accounts is getting harder as everything is becoming tied to your singular Google or Apple accounts. Nobody is truly a ghost on the internet anymore, and no matter how secretive you’re being, there’s probably a way someone can trace everything you do.

Even putting the selfish reasons not to post these things aside, not wanting to be unfair to others should be enough reason to avoid putting offensive content into a public space.

It generally isn’t hard to tell if something could be interpreted as bigoted, and if you are uncertain you can always ask someone who might know better — maybe a parent or a friend, even the moderator of the page or website you want to post on. Being nice costs you nothing besides some of your time and consideration. In doing that, you make a space that welcomes as many people as possible, and lets our social media spaces be a reliably welcoming environment to you and everyone else.

If you post things like this, please put one more degree of thought into how much it really benefits the world to use a certain image or word. If you manage an online space, I urge you to hold your users accountable and kick them out when they don’t, because your space is more than a bunch of data online. It’s where people live, interact, and want to be at peace, and there’s no excuse for making that space unpleasant.