In a world of instant messaging and the land of ubiquitous social media, an off-handed remark can be broadcast to thousands – perhaps millions – of people. Urged by the goal of expanding those who know and understand the importance of routine philanthropy in their lives, our community foundation, The Legacy Fund, has started a program to make full use of the array of these modern communication tools including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn. Mostly, Legacy Fund posts photos of local events and heroes along with the occasional notice of some piece designed to inspire giving. Yet, when reposting a story from The Wall Street Journal which innocuously enough supported corporate philanthropy, a far-away reader jumped into the fray with a stinging assessment of the purported generosity of the business leaders who give. Now, it seems one can, at the push of an all-too-easy button on the handy cell phone, post each fragment of thought.
If a basic tenant of public discourse is to “know one’s audience,” then the open nature of the Web is antithetical to this objective. Once posted, information is impossible to control and contain, yet entirely easy to contort. Recently, filmmaker Spike Lee tweeted online to millions the address of the shooter of the young boy in Florida. Unfortunately, Mr. Lee had an address for the wrong people. Thereafter, these folks have been receiving death threats and are in hiding for fear of their family’s safety. Should Mr. Lee be held to account for inciting vigilantism? Or, was his incident a simple misspeak amplified by the megaphone provided by social media? Regardless, it is clear these, like any powerful tools, are inherently dangerous and must be treated with special care. Likewise, their irresponsible use can carry great consequence to both user and bystander.