Elisabeth Strillacci: The internet is only as good as we are

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 5, 2023

By Elisabeth Strillacci
For the Salisbury Post

Can we have a serious conversation this week? I mean really serious.

I don’t know how many of you are TikTok users, but I suspect enough of you have at least checked the platform out to know what it is.

I confess I have several accounts that I follow every day, and most of them are from what are commonly known as “content creators,” folks that create new content on an ongoing basis for their followers.

One of my favorites, that I know at least some of you have heard of, is MamaTot, whose real name is Ophelia Nichols, and who works intensely hard to spread peace, good will and encouragement. She is an incredible woman and she has the ability to make everyone who watches feel like a dear friend. She’s had her detractors, people who have attacked her or tried to “take her down,” but she has built an army of followers, affectionately referred to as TaterTots, that rise to her defense, and she is well established and isn’t going anywhere.

Unfortunately, Ophelia’s son Randon was murdered in June of 2022 during a drug deal. While it was lifechanging because of the loss of his life and because of the things Ophelia and her family learned about their son and brother, she was strong enough to share what happened on her TikTok page, and to ask her more than 7 million followers at the time for help in solving the case.

“When your children live out on their own and pay their own bills and they have a good job — it just don’t cross your mind that they would be doing anything to get themselves into trouble,” Nichols said in a live video talking about what happened. “We’ve been told that the detectives think that marijuana was being dealt. My son was meeting there, and either they tried to rob him or they did rob him, but he was shot.”

She went on to say that because so many followed her, both in her own Alabama town and across the country, someone had to know something, and she pleaded for help.

It brought a lot of support and a lot of feedback, and not all of it good.

Because you can be anonymous on TikTok, just as you can be a lot of places on social media. And being anonymous can make people dangerously brave.

MamaTot has enough inner strength and support, from her family, friends and her followers, that she has been able to withstand the negativity that has come her way.

But not everyone has been so strong.

A TikTok creator recently committed suicide, likely on a live feed on TikTok, because he was wrongfully accused of grooming a minor, in what has come to light as a planned attack intended to get him banned from the platform.

Inquisitor Ghost, whose TikTok name was Inquisitore3 and whose real name was Vincent Plicchi, was an Italian cosplayer who often dressed as the video game character Simone “Ghost” Riley in his TikTok videos.

Whether it was jealousy of his growing following or just pettiness, the false accusations led to him deciding to what is referred to in TikTok language as “unalive” himself. Words like suicide, kill and death are not permitted on the platform to try to prevent people from making comments like “go kill yourself” that have in the past lead to people doing just that. But there are always ways around the algorithm.

Why am I telling you all this? I know some of you are thinking that this is why we need to have controls on social media and the internet.

I disagree.

Where we need controls is on us.

On our own cruelty, on our own ability to cause intense harm, especially when we think we can engage in it with impunity because no one knows it is us.

Social media and the internet is not the problem. There has always been bullying, and not just among children. We humans have always engaged in denigrating and hurting others, the internet is just another outlet.

We need to have some self control, some reminders about how to play nice with others, some reminders that some things are just not OK to say.

Making up lies, false accusations, treading on another’s pain or loss, spotlighting someone’s weakness or embarrassing someone to make yourself look better, none of these things are OK, and we know this. Or at least we should.

The internet is a wonderful tool, a way to stay in touch with family and friends far away, a way to gather information, a way to share photos and memories and experiences, and social media is a big part of that. But tools are only as effective, and as good, as the people that use them.

Instead of all the talk about banning or controlling the internet and social media sites, let’s talk about getting some control of ourselves, and remembering that if it would hurt us if it was done or said to or about us, then we in turn should not do or say it to or about someone else.

I don’t want to grieve the loss of anyone else who ends up “unaliving” themselves because of the cruelty of others. We have to do better.

Elisabeth Strillacci is former editor of the Salisbury Post.