When the Comment Section Should Be Closed

It’s hard not to politicize the news, even in times of tragedy. Whether it’s profiling the crime suspect, calling into question the life choices of the victim, or debating policy and legislation that may have shaped or prevented the course of events, most of us have been guilty of at least privately expressing less than helpful thoughts about a catastrophe. And in today’s divisive and heated political climate, these judgments have only been amplified.

But there are some crimes so appalling that one would not dare share anything but a uniform cry of disgust and compassion.

Or you would think. That is, if you didn’t read the comment section.

Last week the owner of a South Philly daycare and preschool was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting two 5-year-old children. The tightknit, local family community was shook to its core, reeling from a family’s worst nightmare and forced to deal with the reality that our children could have been exposed to the most horrendous type of crime. In fact, my own son attended the school for a brief time several years ago. And in my own devastation, I assumed that if there were any circumstance where reasonable humans could be universally united, it would be through an expression of dismay and concern for the victims and all families who have attended this facility.

Abject horror and deep sympathy. In a case like this, absolutely no other response is warranted or appreciated, least of all the smug and shocking victim blaming proliferating the comment sections of various local news outlets and even personal social media:

“That’s why I never send my precious children to daycare.”

“They should have known that place was bad news.”

“That’s why I only let my sainted mother watch my children.”

“I don’t know, he seemed like a really nice guy.”

“There are two sides to every story.”

Not one if these responses has a place in this discourse. They play on parent-shaming, victim-blaming, and believing you know more than a police investigation that has found physical evidence.

I’m sure we all feel like we just have to contribute our sanctimony to the worst of public discourse, but this was really not the time. Social media may have made it acceptable for us to weigh in on everything from breastfeeding to congressional hearings to weather patterns (“I told you it wasn’t going to rain!”), but in this case, opinions really shouldn’t be on the table.

These comments add nothing but an obnoxious undertone to a story already so horrendous and disturbing. No one cares that your grandmother provides your childcare, you don’t have to work, or that you think you can tell if a school is run by a predator by the font on the storefront. Parents are already feeling shattered enough without the glib condescension of mommy-shaming in a situation that should be punctuated with nothing but support.

Like them or not, moral politics have been given a megaphone. Thinking members of society are inclined to chime in and share their views on stories both hyperlocal and international. Discussion may be heated, but at least we are talking – even if it’s in all caps. But there is a hard red line that begins and ends with sexual abuse in a daycare center. At least let the ink dry on the arrest warrant before piping in with parenting platitudes.

If this is the way we react to the worst news in the age of social media, I’m not sure what that says about us as a society.

I know we’re all amped up with reasonable angst about protecting the values we hold dear in a time of political unrest. And, as someone who thrives on sharing my opinions on the Internet, I defend the right to shout those opinions from the rooftop. But there does come a time to shut the hell up. And if this isn’t it, I’m not sure when that time is.

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