Sarah Silverman’s Twitter exchange in early 2018 with a troll was my favourite news story of the year and gives me hope. Image, Screenshot

COLUMN: Troll response was my favourite story in 2018

Sarah Silverman used social media to show – get this – compassion

My favourite story of 2018 actually happened at the end of 2017 – on Dec. 28, 2017, to be exact. It garnered media attention in the new year though, so I’m counting it as 2018.

First off, let me say I hate Twitter. I have mixed feelings about social media in general, but I’ve reserved a special loathing for Twitter, or Clutter as I call it. I can see some possibilities with it, but all too often it’s a sounding board for trolls – an unofficiated Texas cage match of opinion.

The one group who uses the medium effectively is comedians, which brings me to my favourite story of 2018. It involves comedian and actor Sarah Silverman. I’ve always liked her stuff, though I wouldn’t say I’m a superfan. A year ago she began an exchange with a “troll” that serves as a sign of hope.

This wasn’t about humour but different emotions. In case you missed it, Silverman sent out a tweet and a man from Texas responded with one word. I won’t print it here, but I’ll put it this way. It’s a curse word, one that is used in England commonly and somewhat harmlessly but when uttered by North American males basically translates as “I despise women.”

Most people here would do one of two things: return fire in a war of tweets, or ignore the troll altogether. I admit, I’d opt for the latter, but Silverman chose neither. She started poking around and found out more about the guy – that he was unable to work and in agonizing back pain.

This is part of her response: “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.”

The man’s defences came down, as he admitted his feelings went beyond physical pain, which turned out to be the result of five herniated disks, toward rage over being abused when he was young by a man who “ripped my body” and “stripped my innocence.”

It didn’t end there though. Silverman put the word out for anyone in the San Antonio area who could help the man with his back, even offering to pay for his treatment. The guy set up a GoFundMe page to raise the amount for his visit but ended up raising more, so in turn he decided to donate the money to some other San Antonians who needed back treatment. As he said in a local news story, he had become bitter and full of hate, but because of Silverman’s reaching out to him, he was changing – that he still had a long way to go but it was a start. I couldn’t find out how’s he doing lately, but I hope he’s on the mend.

The story went viral, with comments praising Silverman’s compassion from people like Alan Alda and CNN’s Jake Tapper. In true understated fashion, Silverman sent out a tweet saying she was embarrassed by all the attention, explaining that she had simply been human to another human being. “Literally everyone can do this,” she said. “Keep your expectations of me low or I’ll surely disappoint.”

That may be so, Sarah, but you got off to a better start in 2018 than most of us. May we follow your lead in 2019.

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