By Jane Shouse
Score one for the cyber bullies. The Frankenstein dummy has come down.
As they have every year for the past 35 plus, my neighbors (let’s call them the Smiths) have hung a dummy over their driveway at Halloween. Its head is a Frankenstein mask; the feet are white socks, and it has no hands because the cuﬀs of its shirt are closed. In the earlier years their kids helped put it up, and now their grandchildren do.
One day earlier this month a young neighbor mom stopped by their house and told Mrs. Smith she found it oﬀensive, asking if she would take it down. Mrs. Smith said, “No,” her family thought it was funny. The mom asked her if she would change her mind if other neighbors felt as she did. Mrs. Smith said she didn’t think so. It was all very cordial.
What happened next was not. Certain she had the moral high ground, the mom returned to the Smith house, took a photo and posted it, not to her own page, but to a notoriously vitriolic
“Lakewood” Facebook page with 14,000 members. She gave the location of the Smith home and invited members to go to their door or to send them a note. Within no time at all, the post had more than 500 comments. The dummy was now about lynching and suicide; the Smiths were insensitive at best, racists at the worst. Expletive ﬁlled rants were common, making one wonder why it is so easy to say things on social media one would never say to someone’s face.
In the ensuing frenzy, many posts began to turn against the mom. She found herself the recipient of hostile comments and removed herself from the group. Her Facebook post was taken down, but new ones emerged again and again throughout the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Channel 11 later arrived to do a story, which was then posted online and picked up nationally. The story had no explanation as to how it all began. New outrage, ceaseless posts and countless drive-bys ensued. The Smiths were left to deal with the fallout while the mom receded into the background and became anonymous. Following a particularly unsettling post, which caused us to fear for the Smiths’ safety, close neighbors urged them to take down the dummy, and they did.
My neighbors had a right to put up a Halloween decoration. The mom had a right to be oﬀended and to express her view to them. It all spun out of control and became classic cyber-bullying when she chose to expose them to some of the lunatics who hide on social media.
Drive around Lakewood, and it’s no secret some folks are into Halloween’s darker side. If you are deeply oﬀended by neighbors who display zombies eating children or babies hanging inside a cage, do us all a favor — Go up to their door and politely let them know face to face. Please don’t resort to online harassment.
You may win the battle, but someone could get hurt, and I guarantee you will lose the respect of many of your neighbors.