With the Web, an ill-shaped comment or a bad-taste joke may bring disproportional shame and destroy lives. We urgently need to learn how to survive in these dangerous times.
In the beginning, words had the weight of dust: they floated in the air and disappeared before anybody noticed them.
And then the Men said “Let there be the Web,” and there was the Web. The Men thought that the Web was good, as it fed them with the knowledge of good and evil.
But the Web turned to the Men and said “I will give you the knowledge of good and evil, but in return I will also carve on silicon to the end of time everything you say.”
Saying that, the Web banished the Men to wildland.
The Men were not prepared to live in the world beyond the garden, but now it was too late: the Web was, the Web is, and the Web will forever be. The Men were cursed to vague the rest of their days feeding from it and striving to survive it.
I’m luck: in my early forties, I’m among the last of the Men who was young in the ancestral times, when words were dust. How much crap l did in my twenties that, if done today under the omnipresent eyes of the Web, could result in at least an embarrassing YouTube video?
I still see so many people writing and saying things in the Web like they were among friends at home, who would indulgently forget or most likely not pay attention to their words. These people don’t realize that now those words may hunt them forever, may reach third parties who were never supposed to hear them, may have professional consequences years ahead. These people may learn too late that their words are going to ghost them to the end of their lives, just like their tattoos pending deformed in their flaccid, elder, and regretful skins.
The latest addition to the Walk of Shame, which already counts on the illustrious name of James Watson, is the also Nobel-laureate Tim Hunt with his sexist comments. (No, I won’t throw them another stone. If you don’t know what each one said, just do some Google work yourself.)
Hunt’s words were a robust piece of crap, raising justified indignation and bringing him some well worth shame. But each minor ironic or angry #DistractinglySexy comment in the social networks summed to an avalanche, which few would agree that he deserved to be buried under.
His words have professionally costed this brilliant scientist more than it would be fair for his moment of stupidity. Specially if we recognize that likely his words only reflected the typical thinking of most of scientists of his generation, who agreed with him in a cleverly coward silence. Hunt is paying alone a disproportional price for being a public figure who forgot that what one speaks among a handful today may be listened by millions.
Courts have been ruling in favor of the right to be forgotten. This is good. But the world will never go back to the comfortable unawareness state from the before-the-Web past. The odds that any of us—you, me, the self-righteous who’re eagerly stoning Hunt—will one day regret an ill-chosen collection of 140 characters are enormous. For this reason, I propose that we grant every person the Right to Regret.
We may call it the Tim Hunt’s Regret rule. It works in the follow way: the day you say something that you deeply regret, you may invoke the rule and if you do so, everybody agrees on completely ignoring your words, no matter how offensive or idiotic they were. No bullies, no truth-owners, no political partisans, no rightly offended or opportunistic moralists will ever mention them again. In the name of the Right to Regret, a greater good, they will resist to any retweet, Facebook share or YouTube answer. But use the rule wisely, you’re allowed to invoke it once and only once in your life.
While the rule isn’t agreed or enforced, we should keep extremely alert on anything we say or do in public. Think twice before telling a joke and three times before being ironic. And more, be always aware that your sarcastically clever comment on some bullshit someone said may be adding to an avalanche, which may destroy this person. Do you really wish that?
I, on my turn, thank Carla for reading all my posts in the Much Bigger Outside before I publish them. She already saved me from few potential embarrassments.
- More about social networks: I’m a Facebook Parasite.
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