In today’s tech savvy world, social media is the bread and butter of public relations. Sharing information has never been easier, while public access to information has never been quicker. Celebrities and teenagers alike are able to post their thoughts, feelings and emotions as fast as their mind can think of new ones. In return, they can communicate with their peers, friends or fans instantaneously. Those people can then comment, like, argue, favorite, retweet, share or bash said post on whatever social media platform they choose.
While it allows for free speech in a previously unprecedented way, it also means that people can be targeted, bullied, talked about and bashed unapologetically on a mass scale. Once someone speaks, their words are immediately all over the internet, followed shortly by the online voices of millions of social media users. More often then not, many of these voices can be overwhelmingly negative. And herein lies the issue with social media: Suddenly, everyone believes they are entitled to an opinion, and that theirs ALONE is the right one.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, not just the anonymous internet users who gain a sense of anonymity and empowerment while hiding behind their computer screens. The public figures are not sorry for having an opinion per say. People have become simultaneously more sensitive to others and more erratic and forceful in their reactions, finding offense in what was meant to be innocent in context. For example, take “Man vs. Food” Host Adam Richman.
While hosting the popular food show about a man forced to eat his way across restaurant challenges in America, Richman gained a lot of weight (Surprise, surprise). However, when the show ended, Richman began exercising and eating better to lose weight and regain his health. Innocent enough…Until he decided to post a photo on Instagram of himself with the caption “Had ordered this suit from a Saville Row tailor over a year ago. Think I’m gonna need to take it in a little…. #Victory #EyesOnThePrize #AnythingIsPossible #fitness #transformation #thinspiration”.
The last hashtag, thinspiration, launched a barrage of negative comments claiming that Richman supported eating disorders and subsequently promoting pro-anorexia websites. In my personal opinion, this is ridiculous. The guy clearly did not know what he was getting into posting this caption/hashtag combo. Naturally, he apologized. Granted, before doing so he went on an offensive tirade against his followers, telling one to “go kill themselves”. Now, do I agree with this? Absolutely not. It was stupid, ignorant, offensive and mean. The only part of his actions I will “defend” is the instagram post itself. I do feel that the use of the hashtag was innocent in nature. If he didn’t know what it meant, and it was clearly being used in the context of his personal mission to be healthy, then okay. As for everything else, he dug his own grave.
For most celebrities who speak out, what happens next is inevitable.
The public figure who voiced those “offensive” words apologizes and claims their words were not a reflection of what they truly think. They are covering their backend to ensure no money is lost because they dared to share their opinion truthfully. In turn, it creates an environment where people are scared of saying what they think for fear of anyone taking offense.
Take Jet’s quarterbacks Geno Smith or Johnny Manziel from the Brown’s. Both have recently been in the press for lashing out at fans in inappropriate ways. Fans unleashed their rants against both men in what can only be described as unapologetically aggressive and offensive attacks. Their responses? Telling the fans to “f**k off” was Smith’s, while Manziel’s approach was slightly more symbolic: He simply flipped them the bird. Obviously, fans were outraged!
Again, most athletes should know better than to let their emotions get the best of them in any game-time decisions. However, I can only imagine myself in their situation and I know that my reaction would most likely be similar, if not worse.
Can you imagine what would happen if you had to apologize for every word you said? Go ahead, study up on all words ever associated with negative press. I guarantee you that you will have problems expressing yourself when asked questions. Now, magnify that by 1,000. When journalists are questioning public figures, they are being paid to bring up topics that make others uncomfortable. So imagine having to avoid speaking when, even taken out of context, people will twist your words and subsequently label you as something you are not.
Political correctness has taken on a different meaning. It used to mean that people steered clear of being blatantly rude or crass when they spoke of others. Now, it means that people should avoid having any opinion whatsoever if there is a small chance of someone disagreeing with it. Again, I find it unfortunate and ridiculous.
I believe people should watch what they say. Don’t be an idiot, but express yourself and what you believe in. I know it’s hard to believe, but there is a way to speak your mind without offending everyone around you. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who feels this way. Gene Simmons, for one, is a celebrity who has taken this approach. While his opinions are controversial and unfiltered, at least he has enough backbone to stand by what he says.
There is a certain element of irony in that social media, a pedestal of free speech, has in somewhat prohibited just that. Public figures are constantly being pushed to their breaking points, with people bombarding them physically and online with internet trolls picking apart everything about them. To avoid backlash, they choose to keep their mouths shut and avoid speaking truthfully about what they think. Enter Irony: as social media begins intimidating those bold enough to have an opinion into backing down silently and apologetically.
Everybody has a right to their opinions and the right to free speech, not only those hiding behind a keyboard and computer screen.