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The Write or Die Chick urges us to stop being mean on the Internet, especially when it comes to other people's children.

Janelle Harris
Mar, 09, 2015

There is great concern about the faltering ethics of our young people. The evidence of them is uploaded all over the Internet: beatdowns on World Star Hip Hop, twerk-offs anywhere there’s video and dumbfounding proof that folks will do just about anything for the Vine. We, the parents, pow wow with each other, swap very adult theories and point blame that ultimately gels into suggestions about how to squelch this wave of unscrupulous behavior.

But I’m pretty sure kids weren’t solely responsible for circulating memes of Mariah Pringle, who suffers from a rare condition called Chromosome Two Duplication Syndrome. The toddler has soldiered through a lifetime of health challenges to turn two last month. That’s a big deal generally and an even bigger deal for her specifically. Yet when her mama posted pics to honor her on Facebook, as many proud mothers with a social media account do, her daughter became the target of tasteless humor because whoever started those memes thought it would be a riot to make fun of her looks. That they were created in the first place is tacky; that they went viral is telling. 

Something has happened to us, y’all. Our insides are getting ugly. We check our children but for reals, we should check ourselves too. 

Chances are the meme makers who insulted little Mariah and her family didn’t know that she was facing an uncertain health prognosis and a short life expectancy before they sent their specially designed vitriol into a cyberspace already crowded with it. So they certainly couldn’t have foreseen the fallout, most importantly that her mom and dad are interrupting the precious time they have with their child to address trifling errors in good judgment.

As a mother, I can only imagine the stabbing pain experienced when you run across your child being made fun of en masse across the web. We take precautions against perverts looking at our kids’ pictures, but most of us don’t think about some stranger—or worse, someone we know—snatching one offline to make a joke out of it. I know I don’t. 

Too many of us are sliding down the slippery slope of becoming grown-up mean girls. Last week, a meme likened Gabourey Sidibe and the blonde wig she wears on Empire to a square of partially burnt ramen noodles. No filter, all shade. I saw it pop up at least three times on my newsfeed in one afternoon and it wasn’t the contagion of inappropriate guy humor doing the bulk of the sharing. Sensitivity and humanity have given way to shock value, all in the name of a joke. But there are real people behind them. So why are we being so mean?

I’m guilty, too. There’s a clip of a slight, small-framed man dancing up to the collection plate at church, falling flat-back out on the floor, then jigging his way right back up like Jesus had him on a yo-yo string that makes me laugh every single time. That man didn’t mean to become a social media sensation. He was just trying to get his worship life on and inadvertently made his way around the Internet. My hope is that he’s not devastated by being the source of entertainment for so many strangers. But the integrity behind our humor has been stomped to hell when we liken a baby to a leprechaun, troll or monster, which is exactly what happened to Mariah and the parents who adore her.

Meanness gets listeners. Meanness gets shares. Meanness gets followers. Meanness has made many sites what they are, both in content and in popularity. Meanness has seeped into our subconscious and what makes it worse, we’ll defend it. We sympathize with people victimized by bullying but haven’t we become bullies of varying degrees? And if we have, can we expect our children to behave better when the anonymity of the internet makes it permissible to poke fun at a stranger? 

Most importantly, I guess, shouldn’t we as parents extend compassion to all children, even if they aren’t ours? Because the way the Internet is set up, they very well could be.

 Janelle Harris is a writer, budgeted shoe addict and cheerleader for Black girl power. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.