It’s so easy to forget sometimes that behind every username on the Internet is a real person with a life and a story of their own. It’s especially easy to forget when that person is a troll, or someone whose opinions and beliefs differ from yours.
Comedian and actress Sarah Silverman has been working hard to understand those with different opinions. Her Hulu show, “I Love You, America,” focuses on people from all over the country, people with a wide variety of lifestyles, beliefs, and political preferences, in an effort to understand and help bridge the gap between Americans on either end of the political spectrum.
But having a sit-down conversation with someone from a different walk of life than you is much easier than responding to a faceless Internet troll. So when one of Silverman’s tweets was met with hostility and crude vulgarity from another user, no one would blame her for ignoring him or clapping back with an equally rude response.
What happened instead was an exchange that should give us all a little bit of hope for the world.
Instead of replying with hatred or dismissal, or ignoring him entirely, Silverman responded to being called a “cunt” by reading the profile of the man who had aggressively insulted her. She noted from his past tweets his struggle with back pain, and that he was experiencing a difficult time, and responded: “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 Fucking sux too. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.”
Jeremy Jamrozy, the man who had insulted her, responded in kind, opening up about his past and his struggles, including a history of sexual trauma. After a few more exchanges in which Silverman asked him to clarify his self-described status as a junkie, suggested he seek out therapy, and expressed her own rage at the man who had inflicted trauma upon him, Jamrozy apologized for his cruel tweet.
Silverman brushed off the apology, and assured him it was no big deal, but then went a step further, asking her audience of 12 million Twitter followers for help in easing Jamrozy’s back issues.
Almost immediately, medical professionals and clinics in Jamrozy’s Texas region responded, and because he doesn’t have health insurance, Silverman even offered to pay for his back treatment. Jamrozy, who had already started a GoFundMe page for his medical bills, now says he plans to donate that money to other San Antonians who need medical assistance.
Jamrozy spoke with his local newspaper in San Antonio, saying, “I was once a giving and nice person, but too many things destroyed that and I became bitter and hateful. Then Sarah showed me the way. Don’t get me wrong, I still got a long way to go, but it’s a start.”
We live in a world where people online – and often in the real world – feel like they have a free pass to attack others with no fear of the consequences. Our differences in politics, demographic, or culture stand sometimes as a seemingly impassable abyss between us. But taking the time to look at people as more than just a hateful word or an ideal you don’t agree with allows us to see them for what they are: people, just like us.
Not every Internet troll story has a happy ending, but in this case, Jeremy Jamrozy is right. It’s a start.