In Baltimore, there is a man named Gerry Sandusky. He’s a sports broadcaster, and from all accounts is a pretty nice guy. Unfortunately, he’s been bombarded with hate messages recently, often over Twitter, with people going so far to send death threats.
The problem is that his name is very similar to one Jerry Sandusky, who was recently convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse. Note the one letter difference in their name, people are not angry with Gerry, they’re angry with Jerry, but are unwilling to do the basic fact checks to ensure that they’re directing their ire towards the correct person.
To Gerry’s credit, he is taking the high road in this case, gently correcting many of the people who are sending him angry messages and overall trying to keep a sense of humor about the situation. He says that it’s an emotional crime, so he understands that people are going to respond the way they have. Still, due to an unfortunate coincidence, a guy who just wants to do his job and talk about sports is being bombarded with messages which are accusing him of a crime he didn’t commit, and has no real connection to. While he has been able to maintain a positive outlook on the situation, at least in what he says online, he shouldn’t have this problem.
It’s an issue with easy access, with something like Twitter anyone can say anything to anybody they want. In some cases, that’s fine, because it allows for a conversation and can bring people together who might not otherwise be able to meet. Unfortunately, that access does come with some responsibility, and some people are just unwilling to actually take responsibility for their actions. In their rush to have a response to the Jerry Sandusky case, they’re not doing basic fact checking or even attempting to consider people unrelated to the case. In this instance, an innocent man is being assaulted daily for a crime he didn’t commit, by a mob that isn’t willing to even consider the spelling of a name.
I fear that this knee jerk response is going to continue to build as more people feel the need to react to a crime they see online. Among the billions of people online today, many have the same name as others, and it stands to reason we’re going to see more cases like that of the Sanduskys, where someone innocent is being dragged along because of an unfortunate coincidence. That unwillingness to do a basic check to even see if you’re talking to the correct person could eventually have serious consequences.
We don’t know if the next Gerry Sandusky will have the same sense of humor and easy going nature as this one, who still can’t be having an easy time due to the abuse. The next case of mistaken identity could strike someone who is more emotionally fragile, and create some real harm to them and their family. Dealing with abuse every day cannot be easy, and while Gerry has been able to keep a sense of humor about it, who knows what will happen in the next case of mistaken identity.
We can say whatever we want online, but we have to remember that we’re dealing with other people, and that we need to treat these other people like fellow humans. It’s not just a bunch of pixels on a screen, there’s someone on the other end, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly.