J for Judgment: “justice” in the digital jungle

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I don’t think people mean to judge each other. In dangerous times, it’s part of human nature to immediately determine if an unfamiliar person or thing is a “Friend!” or “Enemy!” But we’re usually encouraged to look beyond first impressions. For example, journalists have a responsibility to remain impartial and prevent their feelings from interfering with a story. Unfortunately, thoroughly fact-checked articles can be overshadowed by clickbait headlines that are aimed to incite a torrent of knee-jerk reactions.

Every Tweet thread, or article or YouTube comment section is now a courtroom with an out-of-control jury. The comments people make without considering the whole context are frightening. Instead of “Someone voted for this person. Why would they do that?” we can now anonymously write, “Someone voted for this person. They should be LIT ON FIRE and EJECTED INTO SPACE after being WATERBOARDED FOR THREE MONTHS!” Everyone thinks they’re an expert witness on every issue, and feels entitled to condemn others however they want.

Just as jury members have a duty to consider all the evidence before delivering sentences, we the citizens of a global, digital community have a responsibility to remember that condemning people online to brutal fates can affect their real lives in ways we can’t see.

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If education has any purpose, it’s to show us how to step out of our own belief systems and consider the logic behind someone else’s thinking. I know values are difficult to change. You can see truths that contradicts your beliefs but still reject them because of how you’ve been taught or conditioned. If someone is raised to fear pitbulls, they can watch videos of innocent pitbulls dancing to music or playing with babies and still think, “What ugly monsters!” But it’s still important to promote open-mindedness, because there are nuances to every decision, every person. The scariest people are those with the most extreme, one-sided beliefs, no matter liberal or conservative.

I still have strong opinions about certain issues, since I have my own set of values and biases. There are some people I will rarely agree with. But I admit that many of my first impressions require much more thought than I give them. And I can be more confident in backing my beliefs after I’ve done my research to confirm them.

The events leading up to January 2017 have shown us how much the Internet has become a wild, untamed jungle. But maybe we can also benefit from the animal kingdom. Our pets don’t judge us for who we marry or vote for. They repay kindness with kindness. And I’d take kindness any day over hasty calls for justice.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

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