One of the unfortunate by-products of a rapidly growing “information age” and the ever expanding reach of the world wide web is the equally exponential sense of power, coupled with an apparent lack of accountability.
If you’ve spent any amount of time online, particularly on any of the various social media forums, you have no doubt run across the ones who freely share their “expert opinions” on topics they clearly fail to fully grasp, let alone master. With the cloak of seeming ambiguity, some people are very quick to criticize, condemn or correct anything, everything, and everyone they see online – regardless of knowledge, experience, context or facts. There’s a growing sense of “meanness” online that seems to have partnered with this overwhelming urge to promote self-validation and relevance. For some, even in agreeing with a shared perspective, they’re still mean-spirited about it, and are not employing any filters before spewing their views to the world.
There is literally no safe haven from these “Internet Commandos.” You pick a topic, or share a post on any given subject matter – from vaccinations and healthy living, to criminal justice and law enforcement, to ‘the right way to change your oil’ – and you will undoubtedly encounter a whole host of contrary and vocal perspectives, opinions and resistance. In the firearms and/or training communities, we have more than our share of self-righteous, self-taught, and self-absorbed “Internet Commandos” that are quick to cut down another to try to make themselves appear superior. They may or may not have any formal experience, or even know which end of the gun the bullet comes out of… but their opinions fill the ‘web’
While I’m a huge fan of freedom, and the United States Constitution, I also appreciate that such freedoms come with a tremendous amount of responsibility. The First and Second amendments to our Constitution are perfect examples of our rights and freedoms, secured in the Constitution, coupled with the responsibility to maintain them. Here in Arizona, we were America’s third Constitutional Carry state, effective July 2010. (Now, in April 2017, we’re up to 14 Constitutional Carry states.) While I legally support the freedom for law-abiding and responsible gun owners to Open Carry their lawfully possessed firearm, in practical application I will not be joining them in doing so. My General Plan for any given day involves and includes much less attention. While I legally support the individual’s right to peaceably assemble and exercise their 1st amendment rights, in practical application I will not be joining them in doing so – for the exact same reasoning. The individual’s right to free speech and peaceful assembly is not the mob’s right to riot, loot, assault like pack hunters, and destroy property. The freedom must be balanced with responsibility. Always.
As a professional firearms instructor with many years of experience, one of the recurring areas where I see otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying free peoples making very unwise decisions in regards to their freedoms is online. Some will tell the world of their vacation plans – before they leave – which is pure folly. While others, in response to a news article, or the coolest new meme making the social media rounds, are far too quick to add their ‘two cents’ and share – again, with the cloak of seeming ambiguity. This is an unwise exercise of a First amendment right, in that these comments shared with whatever level of passion and conviction from your recliner in your underwear some evening may again be shared in the light of day, in a court room, or during an investigation. Here, the cloak provided by the Internet is removed. It’s really you. And your comments, opinions and perspectives you’ve been sharing so freely and harshly with all who would read them are now evidence. What you say can be used against you.
The Internet Commando reading to this point likely just tuned out, and dismissed this cautionary advisory as an unnecessary and unrealistic scare tactic. However, for the free thinker who is not afraid to think, consider all aspects of your environment, and then forge a better plan – he/she is reading and heeding.
Just in the past 12 to 24 months or so, how many of us caught a fleeting glimpse of a report of some law enforcement officer somewhere – after being involved in a completely justified use of deadly force – was then sacrificed upon the altar of public opinion because they exercised their First amendment right by inscribing some “cool badass” quote on the dust cover of his AR-15, or by sharing “too freely” their perspectives about certain political movements online, or by displaying their allegiance openly in some manner that others disagreed with? Sadly, Law Enforcement, Fire and EMT’s, even doctors and nurses, seem to be among the first that are cast upon that altar. However, average Joe and Jane Citizen are by no means immune.
We discuss this in our training classes regularly. Part of a solid General Plan is realistically considering the “end from the beginning.” Meaning, your plan should already have anchor points in place, and you should know what they are, and where they are – because once the proverbial fan is actively being covered in fecal matter, you will not then be able to place these anchors. This is in part what separates a reasonable and realistic plan from an emotional and explosive response. A critical part of your General Plan should not only include Social Media and Online safety protocols, but also Online and Social Media “filters.” Contrary to popular opinion, you do not HAVE to comment on everything you see online.
Yes, you have a First amendment right to share what you please, as you please. But you also have a responsibility to your family, and yourself. If, when viewing some news article or graphic video depiction of some crime caught on camera, you think it is somehow wise, pertinent or ‘cool’ to share comments in the thread – do not think that if, after the worst day of your life – when you’ve had to use your firearm to defend yourself or your home – that an after-the-fact investigation will not review your social media and online presence. Especially should you find yourself caught up in a civil law suit, where the sharks in the water are motivated and driven by the promise of a big, fat payday. There, you have no presumption of innocence, and no right against self-incrimination. A picture of you will be painted, and your own words, comments, posts and perspectives will be the medium used to create that picture.
If you’re one of the Internet Commandos that likes to share comments such as: “I’d just shoot the little _____,” or “There are no gun free zones if I’m there, because I carry everywhere!” or “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6,” or “they better not try that with me, because I’ll kill them dead!” or “you can call 9-1-1, I’ll be reloading..” or any manner of similar ultra-macho, hyper-badass rhetoric… you might want to reconsider the effectiveness of your General Plan. Whether you realize it or appreciate it or not, you’re painting a picture of yourself. This picture isn’t just for investigators either. Prospective employers, family and friends may all see your “self-portrait.”
In our training program, we stress the significance of having a solid plan, and continual situational awareness. If you have not extended your General Plan to include your online presence, I’d like to urge you to begin doing so today. Just like our freedoms, the Internet is a vastly powerful tool, that brings with it all manner of responsibility. Be smart. Build a better plan. Stay safe, and stay trained.