Our Online Selves are Just as Important

Curt Schilling, a retired professional baseball player, recently made headlines for standing up to his daughter’s cyberbullies. According to the New York Post, when news that his 17-year-old daughter Gabby Schilling had been accepted to Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, Curt Schilling sent out a tweet to share the good news with his followers.

Hours later, Curt Schilling was horrified to see some of the sexually explicit tweets responding to his post about his daughter. Some tweets went as far as threatening to rape Gabby, according to the New York Post.

What makes this story unique is Schilling didn’t submit quietly to the harassment he and his daughter were enduring. Instead, with a little online investigating, Schilling was able to track down the worst offenders and find out who they were, where they worked and where they went to school. As a result, the offenders were fired from their jobs and kicked out of their schools, according to the New York Post.

Social Media expert Becky Sasso received her master’s in digital communication at Johns Hopkins University. She currently works as a digital content editor and explained why she believes people think they can make statements on social media without consequence.

“I think there’s a lot of people on the Internet who sort of use it as an anonymous outlet for their opinion, their anger or their hatred towards other groups of people,” Sasso said. “They feel like they don’t have to be accountable for those things because it’s not real, because it’s online, when in reality it is just an extension of the way we communicate now.”

According to the New York Post, people who have fallen victim to cyberbullying have been taught to ignore the cyber trolls. Gabby had actually pleaded with her father to stop responding to the offenders and to just let the comments die down.

Dani Kluss, a freshman at California Lutheran University, is experienced in managing social media accounts for her work as well as her personal life.

“This is incredibly common. I know so many people who have received comments similar to those that were directed toward Gabby Schilling, and it is awful,” Kluss said in an email interview. “Luckily, I personally have never been the target of these comments. It is so difficult for people to realize that the things they say online are in fact real words, despite the fact that they are typed instead of spoken.”

Curt Schilling said he felt differently about the situation and took matters into his own hands, and I commend him for that. This belief that social media is an alternate reality from “real life” needs to be put to rest.

“Online life is offline life. The ‘real world’ is a fine line separating the two. Whether it is online or offline, what you are posting is still something that you are saying and they should be taken with equal weight,” Kluss said.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we’ve all sent a tweet or text, and right after sending it we may have thought to ourselves that what we did might not have been such a good idea. We are human after all, but when it comes to online threats and constant berating there needs to be some accountability.

“For some reason people feel comfortable saying things online that they wouldn’t normally say to people in person,” said Dr. Jonathan Cordero, a professor of sociology at Cal Lutheran. “They believe they are less responsible for what they say because of that virtual distance. But the irony, of course, is there’s your name, and there’s your face, and there’s all the information about where you live and who your friends are.”

There’s an element of anonymity users believe they have, but in reality all of their personal information is on their profile.

“People don’t realize how easy it is to track anyone down. We all have a digital footprint now, whether we know it or not, and it’s pretty easy to find out anything you need to know about somebody online if you know the right way to research,” Sasso said. “I think that’s another good point that Curt Schilling made is that he tracked those people down within an hour.”

The young men who made those comments about Curt Schilling’s daughter had to face the consequences of their actions. They impulsively made comments they probably wish they could take back.

Sasso encourages users of social media to use the “grandma rule.”

“If you wouldn’t want your grandma to see it, then you shouldn’t put it online,” Sasso said.

Sasso said she encourages people to Google themselves to see what comes up because any potential employer is going to Google you nowadays.

“You don’t post the video of you stumbling drunk at your friend’s party because you think it’s funny or amusing or you think it’s cool, because if that video somehow is archived online somewhere and your employer does a search of you online, then guess what’s there? A picture of you drunk. Is that going to hinder your capacity to get a job? Potentially, yes,” Cordero said.

We are living in the height of the digital communication era, and it’s only going to be harder for younger generations to navigate through the layers and etiquette of social media. There are no steadfast rules on how to conduct ourselves online, and there is a vast majority of gray area. We can’t pretend our persona online isn’t important or fictitious. This is the potential way future employers, or any type of agency, will be researching us to get a sense of who we are.

“My job right now is 100 percent online. I’ve met the person that I work for one time in person, so all she has to go off of is my online personality. I’m collecting a paycheck based off of who I am online, Sasso said. “That’s more and more the norm too. Working remotely and working digitally, that’s such a big part of any job now. I think it would be silly to think to think that there would be no repercussion.”

Daniela Abravaya
Staff Writer
Published March 18th, 2015