Sarah Silverman's new series on streaming service Hulu is called I Love You, America and it aims to bring people together, not drive them apart. Wikimedia Commons

Bob Brehl: Comic gives us lesson in online humanity

  • January 24, 2018
In the past, we’ve pointed out a decisive — and growing — lack of decorum in the digital age. Far too often people say the nastiest and rudest things in tweets, posts and emails. Things most would never think to say in person.

For whatever reason, when on a smartphone or keyboard, people get emboldened to attack instead of civilly debating differing views. One recent example was the vicious online campaign against a priest for opining there may be ways to build bridges between the Church and the LGBT community. Even Pope Francis is routinely attacked online in the most unchristian of ways.

Indeed, there’s now a term for these nefarious online troublemakers. They are called “trolls” and Wikipedia defines them as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

So, when someone acts digitally dignified, it is news; big news on social media and even trickling into mainstream media. The story of American comedian Sarah Silverman and her empathetic — and highly unusual — response to a Twitter troll at the end of December is worth highlighting.

With Donald Trump in the White House, Silverman has been on a mission to try to reach out to people she doesn’t understand or agree with. Her new series on streaming service Hulu is called  I Love You, America  and it aims to bring people together, not drive them apart. She also tweets things like: “Country over party, humanity over party any day, anyway.”

Just after Christmas, a San Antonio man named Jeremy Jamrozy replied to one of her tweets with a vulgar one-word insult.

Silverman had choices: ignore the ignorant response, lash back and take him down, which would have been easy for a humourist like her, or respond with compassion. She chose wisely and took the time to look through his Twitter feed and learn a bit about him, including his back problems. Then she tweeted this response:

“I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back…sux too. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.”

The troll was completely caught off guard. Unlike his first angry response, he answered in sadness:

“I can’t choose love. A man that resembles Kevin Spacey took that away when I was 8. I can’t find peace, if I could find that guy who ripped my body who stripped my innocence I’d kill him. He …. me up and I’m poor so it’s hard to get help.”

The 12.4 million Twitter followers of Silverman watched something amazing unfold. Silverman and Jamrozy went back and forth in friendship. He quickly apologized, she answered with a digital shrug not to worry about it. She asked him to consider joining a support group, and in the days that followed tried to find a doctor in his hometown of San Antonio to treat his back.

Hundreds, if not thousands, tweeted positive comments and words of encouragement to the 32-year-old unemployed Jamrozy. Several offered money. One man from New Jersey sent him a cheque for $500.

Silverman followed up with Jamrozy to make sure he saw a doctor. And after his MRI showed he had five herniated discs, she passed along the news on Twitter.

When Jamrozy put up a GoFundMe web page to raise money for treatment, Silverman shared it. And she offered to make up the difference if donations fall short of what he needs for the repairs.

Jamrozy told the San Antonio website that Silverman’s support has motivated him to pay it forward. He says he’s donating any extra money he receives beyond paying for his medical bills to a couple of other San Antonians who need help.

“I was once a giving and nice person, but too many things destroyed that and I became bitter and hateful,” Jamrozy said. “Then Sarah showed me the way. Don’t get me wrong, I still got a long way to go, but it’s a start.”

Everyone has a back story, history we’re unaware of. When I receive the occasional nasty email, I can be guilty of responding with sarcasm, instead of compassion. Perhaps one angry man who emailed me recently also had someone resembling Kevin Spacey in his life. Who knows?

Silverman’s response can teach a lot of us a lot of things. Hopefully, it will have a ripple effect online for more than just a few weeks and more people think before tapping out obnoxious, spiteful comments.

(Brehl is a writer and author of several books.)

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