Pitchfork Nation: A world of constant social media outrage

KFAN talk show host Dan Barreiro makes a living telling it like it is, but even he's quick to recognize when 'opinion' crosses the line, especially online. He even has a name for it.

"Pitchfork Nation is what it is. We don't have to call for somebody's head every time we see one person offer up one tweet that we think is stupid, racist, sexist, whatever the case may be."

The Britt McHenry saga

One example is ESPN reporter Britt McHenry who took a virtual beating after degrading an impound lot worker. A Facebook page and two Twitter hashtags were dedicated to getting her fired.

"We'll talk about it because I think it's Pitchfork-ian. I don't want her dead, though. There will be some people online that will call for her death," Barreiro said.

The same thing happened last year with the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. Whether warranted or not, he was the target of all kinds of crazy comments online, when he was charged with using a switch to discipline his child.

Bert Blyleven, too

Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven took some major heat after taking cheap shots at Detroit's skyline during a recent rain delay. In the cases of Britt and Bert, their bosses quickly weighed in and there was some serious backpedaling. Barreiro says this is exactly how Pitchfork Nation operates. They're relentless until their version of virtual justice is served. This is usually by way of a forced apology, suspension or even job loss.

"For a lot of people, it's a new form of blood sport where they go, 'Oh, we got this guy, he's backing off, and we got him. And so I want to see how vicious and mean other people can be in responding to him,'" Barreiro said.

We're all vulnerable

Cyber mobs aren't just targeting celebrities and controversy. We're all vulnerable to rising hostility online. A recent poll by Vital Smarts shows 3 in 4 people have witnessed an argument on social media, 4 in 5 report rising incivilities online and 2 in 5 have blocked or unfriended someone as a result.

A Minnesota mom wrote an article "12 Secrets that Happily Married Women Know" and it ended up going off the rails because of a picture. Galit Breen's 12-year-old wedding photo drew in all the attention, instead. People were commenting saying she looked fat and being cruel.

"I will admit that originally I just went to a sad place. I didn't really do anything about it besides cry. You know, talk about it with my husband. I kind of kept looking and checking to see if someone might say don't say that, or that's not nice," Breen said.

But no one said a word and a new reality set in for Breen, realizing this is the new normal online. Breen wrote another article, "It Happened to me," after all of the rude comments on her first article, focusing on what actually happened in the online world. She now is leading a social media civility movement by teaching others kindness can triumph over trolls and even wrote a book for kids about being kind online, it's called, "Kindness Wins."

Hiding behind a keyboard

Doctor Susanne Jones, an expert in interpersonal communication said social media interaction strips us of all nonverbal communication cues.

"It is really relatively easy to be rude in a word, you're stupid. You're stupid and look how fat you are," she said.

And without those nonverbal cues, without that emotional accountability she said cruelty has no bounds.

"People tend to feel freer to post rude messages thinking they will never look in the face of the receiver and see them hurt which is usually what keeps us from doing this in face to face interactions."

Recently, Twitter expanded its abuse policy to anyone egging on a social media attack.

A blog post from Twitter reads, in part:

We are updating our violent threats policy so that the prohibition is not limited to "direct, specific threats of violence against others" but now extends to "threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others."

Read the rest here: https://blog.twitter.com/2015/policy-and-product-updates-aimed-at-combating-abuse 

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