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Internet commenters: everyone's a critic

We need to be careful what we say online for a number of reasons.

As wonderful as modern technology is, it has also become a cesspool for people to defend their views at all costs, a place where emotions flare high, where 'friends' are deleted or unfollowed, where different viewpoints are not heard, and where more division among people is created.

Prior to social media, and prior to comment boards, if a person wanted to voice a concern about a topic, they had to write a response to an article in a newspaper. They actually had to craft a well-thought out letter that a newspaper staff deemed appropriate to run in their print edition. These still run, of course, but they are far and few between. I just read one to my journalism students a few weeks ago about a 101-year-old African American male, who said that today's teens are the greatest generation. It was well-written and described his time growing up in World War II. It was inspirational and carried a good message. It left the teens with healthy discussion. You can find the letter in the Sun-Times here.

In college, I wrote a piece about my struggle with a medical condition I had all of my life. Those familiar with me, know about this condition. The article received considerable praise from a number of people and a local reporter even asked if she could run it in their paper. However, not everyone was so kind about it. A number of hateful comments ran underneath the post online - one even posed as my aunt, saying that it was an awful article. Others made fun of my condition.

It is interesting to see how people are so easy to voice their opinion while hiding behind a screen, but those same people who may have given me those hateful comments while posing as my aunt would never say it to my face. I never did find out who they were.

Words are powerful. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, Abraham Lincoln said that she was "The little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

When Woodward and Bernstein wrote articles for The Washington Post on the Watergate Scandal, it led to President Nixon's resignation and other top government officials' arrests.

But now in the digital age, all one has to do is send a 30-word tweet or respond to someone else's comment. It's easy to be overcome with emotion and write without thinking. It's easy to disregard how your words will impact that other person's feelings. Not everyone thinks as you do. Jesus told us to love all people. As hard as it is to love those who hold ideas that are radically different than our own, we need to reason with them, and use logic.

We must remember to think before we act. Too often in this world when we can send a letter to a digital newspaper, we think with our hearts instead of with our minds. And that creates more division among people than anything. Social media is great in so many ways, and it is also toxic in so many ways. We must remember to use it for good, for what we post and send on there can be seen by the whole world.

Communication in 2020 has never been more important. I think everyone can say that they are ready for 2021 already. I can't recall a more difficult year. Let's just hope the second half of the year is better for all. But we can help each other out by communicating positivity with one tweet, one post, and one comment at a time.

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