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Scorching PSA acts out online hate in real life

Commentary: A PSA to mark National Bullying Prevention Month shows what it would be like if things said online were said offline.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Online hate brought offline.

In Real Life/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

What's the worst thing anyone's ever said to you online?

One of my favorites was a person who told me that every day he wished I'd never been born. He managed to time it in the week my mom died, which was touching.

Many people, though, have suffered far, far worse online. A new PSA released this week imagines what it would be like if online hate were acted out in real life. 

It's the inspiration of Monica Lewinsky -- the former Bill Clinton intern who suffered online harassment when the web was new -- in conjunction with various anti-bullying groups. The PSA was released to mark National Bullying Prevention Month.

"This is very much about showing the disparity between how we behave online and how we behave offline," Lewinsky told CBS

Here, gay people, Muslims and young women are assailed with the sort of horrific things that people blithely post online every day. They're told to kill themselves for being gay. They're told that all Muslims are terrorists. They're told that they're the most hated girl in school.

The people playing out these scenarios -- all taken from real posts on social media -- are actors. Those who make the choice to intervene, however, are real-life passers-by. 

There's a painful paradox, though, at the center of these things. The online world allows us to be anonymous and therefore far more free to utter obscene loathing.

But thin now is the line between the so-called real world and the digital one. Which more truly reflects who we really are?

In recent times, too, the hate that was once only seen online has now been given greater permission to spew into the physical world. 

As Nazis march in Charlottesville, uttering the very same hateful thoughts they used to dedicate to the online world, we stand, stare and hope that the online and offline worlds can work together to usher in a return to sanity.

This PSA at least might allow some to look at themselves. I wonder what they really see.

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