In Which I Break Wheaton's Law

Discussing politics or current issues online is not my style. I wrote this post last week in the midst of the shooting in Allen, Texas.

Yesterday I came across an opinion piece about mass shootings published in an arts/music magazine based in northern California. In a nutshell, the article was suggesting that maybe it’s time to get unhinged about gun violence. It struck a nerve with me because of its abrasive tone and unique message. The writer of the article was clearly upset, and it showed.

I stumbled upon the comments section, and spotted one that I found so appalling I reread it several times to make sure I understood what the commentator was saying. Reading opposing viewpoints is one thing, but the more I read it, the more it ticked me off.

I was so upset that I made an account so I can respond to the comment.

I usually don’t post emotionally driven, knee-jerk reactions online. It went against my instinct, but I couldn’t help myself. I went after the commenter and let loose.

Afterwards, I started to feel guilty. I had broken a key online rule I follow to the letter, which is Wheaton’s Law that states “Don’t be a dick.” I’m always considerate of my online behavior. I make sure I check myself before writing an email, tweet or any comment. I had lost my cool on a small, local area arts magazine, and it didn’t sit well with me.

Deciding to write a follow-up comment after eight hours had passed, I went back to the article to write another comment. For some reason, I can’t seem to post another comment. There’s no indication that I’ve been banned or blocked. My comment is still visible. There were several other “unhinged” comments that seem more abrasive than mine, but it looks like I won’t get the chance to post my follow-up.

The follow-up was more of an apology, as I felt that while the spirit of the article suggested that it may be time to be ‘unhinged’ about gun violence, unleashing my unchecked agression on another reader, and exposing such content to other readers was not cool.

It turns out, the article was written and published in June of 2022.

The article was so evergreen that I thought it had just been written, even though it didn’t mention any mass shootings in particular. The author simply reposted the link on their social media amid Saturday’s mass shooting. So, it’s quite possible that no one aside from the magazine staffer who monitors online comments was the only one who saw my unhinged comment.

My take-away from this experience is that I felt guilty putting a piece of content in place I normally skip over. On social media, you can avoid most knee-jerk reactions. My comment wasn’t as bad as others I’ve stumbled upon, but I felt guilty for losing my cool in a small online environment where my comment would easily be seen.

Closing thoughts: I felt like documenting this because we all make mistakes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to even put this post in the world, but I’ve had time to think about it, and I feel that it points to a real and persisting problem online. We may have the power to turn it off, but this problem isn’t new, and it’s become accepted. I left Twitter mostly for this reason. I’m not proud of my outburst. I tried fixing it, but I wasn’t able to. Maybe this is the next best thing.

Luis Vazquez @vazquez