When I worked on a cruise ship as real-life Julie Macoy (my actual title was Assistant Cruise Director), I could often be heard remarking, “That is not nice!” which earned the response,”Hey, what are you the nice police?” In light of recent events, I think we need the nice police to exist or at least some rules of the road for the internet. Hearing about the tragedy of Tyler Clementi jumping to his death in New York after his personal life was streamed live online, and about Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old from Massachusetts who killed herself after cyber bullying, makes me wonder if we need the nice police now more than ever. I don’t mean Big Brother from the book,1984, being watched constantly and having our credit card transactions and every move recorded. We all know companies know our every purchase, although many consumers are afraid of it. One example of the paranoia is when a woman screamed at me years ago while embarking our ship: “But I don’t want my retinas scanned!” I tried to assure her it was only a photo for security, but she was unsure we were on her side. And maybe we weren’t, but we are not going to change the fact that the grid is following our every move. However, we can change how we act towards each other on that network. In the movie, The Social Network, Sean Parker aptly states: “We used to live on farms, then in cities…Now we’re all living on the internet.” When we live in community, we follow rules. However, the online community feels a bit like the wild wild west; no one seems sure of what is appropriate anymore.
Finding out someone is pregnant because they post a photo of their naked six month belly is surprising; discovering your relationship is over because of a change in Facebook status is rude and immature. But where are the signposts? I heard that a friend from elementary school’s dad left his mom after twenty five years of marriage when he came out of the closet last year, and I wondered did he mean to write that on his wall on Facebook or was that supposed to be a personal message? Did that overly public disclosure happen on purpose or was he confused? Maybe online interactions need an ethics class or some speed-bumps. Adults who are unfamiliar with Facebook often make mistakes like using the wall instead of a message. Teenagers who are internet savvy are able to use technology to bring bullying to an entirely new galaxy. I was reading the 10 commandments of social networking in the Jewish Journal and #6 is “Don’t cyberbully.” It is time for all of us to be responsible for each other. We have problems with individuals bullying each other in person, as companies and online. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a new video, “Bullied,” which is the story of a young man bullied in school; this powerful story is available free to schools. We can no longer just look at each other and say, “boys will be boys;” we must teach all our children to be kind and respectful citizens in the online and offline communities. Yes, we must show them how to be nice.