Unchecked vitriol

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 8:15pm

What happened this week was kind of crazy.

Some guy from Long Island posts a picture of his hand holding a chunk of old, dried paint, and the social media universe went nuts.

But let’s start at the beginning. Someone deliberately chipped off a piece of Painted Rock. That much we do know, and that was why the story was worth noting. The primary concern was not the initial act of vandalism, but that it would somehow become normal and accepted, which would have terrible consequences for this delightful Block Island landmark. Doing damage to anything is never acceptable, and that should be rightly frowned upon.

But the truth is, the guy who posted the original picture of paint chips didn’t say he was the one who did it, but everyone assumed he was, and what followed on social media were vague and oafish threats against his personal property, calls for his banishment from the island and for his arrest. Almost everyone who commented seemed very comfortable throwing out accusations and handmade solutions for some kind of social justice. The vitriol from some quarters was upsetting.

We obviously live in contentious times, and we have long known that the internet has made it easier to hurl insults at strangers.

Whoever deliberately chipped away at Painted Rock — which is the only fact we know in this entire situation — did the absolute wrong thing, and we hope it is never, ever repeated. But adding heaps of condemnation onto the head of an individual who claims he did not do it simply made a terrible incident much, much worse.