Think first, tweet later

Think first, tweet later

Knuckleheads using Twitter created quite an unnecessary stir.

The self-flagellation over moronic tweets directed at University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise has come to an apparent conclusion, the final chapter — at least for now — played out at the Krannert Center on a cold Thursday night.

The highlight of that evening was a public apology over one of the ill-conceived tweets issued by a UI student who said she "got caught up" in what she called a "Twitter fiasco" and, upon reflection, felt foolish and ashamed of her behavior

Kudos to her. It's not easy to learn the hard way, let alone apologize in such a public manner. But what this young lady learned probably doesn't have much to do with the larger lesson sponsors of the evening wished to impart.

This silliness began Jan. 27 when Wise decided that classes would be held in spite of cold weather that prompted some other institutions to shut down. Her decision was altogether reasonable.

Illinois winters are cold. College students are old enough to know how to dress appropriately. Students were free to stay home if they wished.

That would have been that, but for that social media commenting machine called Twitter. Wise's unwise critics immediately voiced their objections, some using insulting and vulgar language to describe her.

The relative handful of boorish responses was met with immediate, condemnatory comments from those who objected. Speech problems always are best addressed with more speech, and this was a perfect example of that corrective balm.

But the story took on a life of its own and, suddenly, Wise was cast as a fragile flower in need of protection. As the most powerful person on campus and the beneficiary of a $500,000-plus annual income, the chancellor is an unlikely victim. But the narrative of corrosive hate and intolerance was better than the facts, and suddenly many people — President Robert Easter, UI Board Chairman Chris Kennedy, the UI student body president — issued ringing denunciations of the mean-spirited comments and wrung their hands over the depths of evil to which some can sink.

Most people, of course, are against hate and for tolerance. But what was on display here was impulsive stupidity, more akin to mob behavior than actual malice.

At worst, the tweets reflected a relative handful of comments. Even those who are skeptical of the perfectibility of man have to concede that fewer than a dozen offensive comments represent a minuscule percentage of the roughly 40,000-student campus. To say the offensive tweets were statistically insignificant is to exaggerate their number.

Social media represents the new, high-tech bathroom wall; it provides a worldwide forum for stupid, impulsive, thoughtless comments quickly conceived, sent and, usually, deservedly forgotten.

Perhaps someone learned something from this sorry business. But it's not that everyone should hold hands and declare solidarity against the forces of darkness. Better instead that people reflect before blurting unformed thoughts into cyberspace. Good luck with that.

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