Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Official Portrait.jpg
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Credit: Wikipedia

Gretna police officer Charlie Rispoli was fired on the 22nd of July for publishing a social media post suggesting, the United States Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez needed “a round”, insinuating she should be shot. 

The same day, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson announced that the 14-year veteran had been fired and referred to the incident as “an embarrassment to our department”.

“This vile idiot needs a round… and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve”, the officer wrote referring to the rounds of drinks she used to serve as a bar tender. The post was shared with a story titled “Ocasio-Cortez on the Budget: ‘We Pay Soldiers Too Much’”, from the satirical webpage Taters Gonna Tate.

Did Mr. Rispoli even know what had evoked his emotions?

By reading the Taters Gonna Tate article all the way to the end, it is clear that the Congresswoman in no case suggested lowering military salaries. In fact, the piece concludes: “Luckily, Derpette Smurfette hasn’t actually made any moves to affect military pay rates, nor has she mentioned that she plans to.  That’s good.  Because sweetheart, trust me: you don’t want a couple dozen angry jarheads to show up at your bar on the next karaoke Friday.”

Did the officer read through the whole article? Did he know that the page he found it on came from a satirical website? Did he just take the story at face value without thinking?

Let’s think about it, if the police officer actually read the article and had known that AOC did not state that soldiers are paid too much, would he have used such an accusatory and violent tone in a public post? Sure, he might have done so in a different situation or with a different article, but presumably not with a satirical article based on false information.

The bigger picture

The event is a clear example of how well-informed reading matters.

There is little doubt that information is the bridge between instinctive behaviour and reason.

The age of social media has given everyone an opinion, a voice, a say. While political discussions used to be an elitist privilege, the digital era is increasingly allowing people to participate in those discussions. The problem is that the phenomenon is also paving the way for a mounting number of so called ‘keyboard warriors’, individuals who feel entitled to express their often aggressive and violent emotions without any filters and hiding behind a screen.

The fact that we now have the possibility to say what we have to say, should not be an excuse to forget about how important information is. It is our duty as individuals to do the best we can to not waste breath with uninformed, unsupported and impulsive statements.

Doing that is leaving more and more space to an era of “fan-based” political discussions, with people cheering for one “team” over the other. The truth though, is that political issues are not a football match. They are often pieces of a much too complex puzzle of events and parties that require careful analysis, that can only come through information and diligent attention to the factors involved.

In response to that, politicians are increasingly turning to social media to speak to the emotions and frustrations of people, which resulted in many of us giving up the fight against emotions through information, making us ‘vulnerable’ and attracted to the charms of populism and populist politicians because they make us feel represented.

The case of police officer Rispoli is the perfect exemplification of this.

Had he read the article, he most likely would have been able to fight the anger and emotions that led him to share the post.

We can choose to act like this was a one-off case of an individual who did not have the decency to read through an article before sharing it. But ask yourselves, have you ever done the same?

According to a study conducted by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, almost 60% of the links we share are not even clicked on.

This time it was Mr. Rispoli, but it can happen to any of us. With reading comes knowing. Once you know, you can think about sharing.