What Have We Learned (WHWL) is a weekly column by TAtech CEO Peter Weddle that examines what will endure after the Covid-19 pandemic ends. It asks what positive can we extract from the negative experience of this contagion? And, it answers that question with this simple truth: The best way to recover from a crisis is to focus on the knowledge we have gained while passing through it.
So, What Have We Learned from the Covid-19 pandemic: We should all don an N95 mask before going online.
It’s a pretty safe bet that, prior to January 31, 2020, most people had never heard of something called an N95 mask. Today, just four months later, exactly the opposite is almost certainly true. Every person with access to the news knows about these protective devices.
What’s also true is that most of us know that wearing an N95 mask is an act of social responsibility. While the mask will protect you from catching Covid-19, it will also prevent you from infecting others. The masks not only keep the virus from getting in, they keep it from getting out as well. The wearer is taking care of themselves, of course, but they are also helping care for everybody else.
And that’s something we could use on the Internet these days. Hard as it is to believe, even as we grapple with the most deadly contagion since the Spanish Flu, we are subjected to a pandemic of hate speech and vicious assaults online. We see our friends and neighbors as well as strangers and public figures ridiculed, debased and shamed by comments spewed out on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms. It is a virus of animus.
Admittedly, that’s the most vicious form of such online behavior. Others, however, are being harmed by less brutal language that nevertheless drags down their self-image and scratches at their sense of self-worth. It is the snide remark made about another’s appearance, the careless critique of someone else’s efforts, the smug observation about a stranger’s (or even a friend’s) miscue. Such comments may be seen as less destructive than their more aggressive cousin, but they are just as prevalent and, over time at least, almost as corrosive.
Moreover, as with the common cold, we are the ones who spread these illnesses. Who hasn’t, at one time or another, gone into work, dropped by the grocery store, dined at a restaurant or taken in a movie when they’ve been nursing a cold? And similarly, who hasn’t, at one time or another, said something spiteful, snarky or simply unkind when responding to another person’s social media post, especially if they’re a stranger? We may be innocent of hate speech and shaming, but we are often way too casual about what we say or how we say it online.
Which brings me back to the N95 mask. It may be wishful thinking, I know, but wouldn’t the Internet be a healthier place if each of us put on a virtual protective mask every time we went online? Wouldn’t we be more socially responsible if we simply imposed a mandatory self-pause on hitting the Enter button whenever we’re about to upload a comment on social media? Unlike a real N95, it wouldn’t protect us from the haters, but it would help prevent us from doing any harm to others.