I flipped off a stranger in 1989.

It happened during the hour-long drive home from an overnight internship at a TV station in Cleveland, Ohio. My main duty was banging out news stories on carbon paper during the waning era of the typewriter, then loading scripts onto a teleprompter for a presenter to read during the breakfast show.

I was a sleep-deprived 19-year-old at the time. I stopped at an intersection before entering the highway ramp and continued fiddling with the radio while the light turned green.

The bloke behind me honked his horn, and I could see his face, contorted in anger, through my rear view mirror.

As he passed me, still mouthing unkind words, I shot him the bird.


The dreaded middle finger. Instead of matching gesture for gesture, he sped ahead of me, then slammed his brakes.

He could've caused me to crumple my car, myself, or someone else. I veered on to the shoulder, shuddered to a stop, then paused for a couple minutes, heart thumping like a hyperactive conga drum.

That was the last time I raised a middle finger to anyone. Unless I was joking about an injury.

Earlier this month, a group of 12 to 15-year-old softball players from Atlee, Virginia, competing for the Junior League World Series made international news by posting a photo on social media.

The image shows six girls raising middle fingers to a rival team.

As a result, Little League bounced Atlee from the tournament, saying their conduct was unsportsmanlike. Whether you think the punishment was just, the lesson remains: everything we share online is fair game for the world to see. And judge.

It's maddening to witness the lack of civility that develops when people conflate cyberspace with freedom to berate those with whom they disagree.

If ever I need a reminder we're not creatures of logic but rather prisoners of emotions and prejudices, I have only to check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram...or any other forum allowing users to share not only information and images, but also snipes, gripes and lies.

Overall, social media has proven useful, providing connections to family, friends, even helping me tell stories from anywhere in the world.

But occasionally, I wear the wrath of strangers for whom online criticism is sport.

Members of the media are always fair game. I'm either lucky or naïve enough to believe I've received few shots.

Once, when someone didn't like a news article I'd written, they took to social media to complain.

Then, they allowed their followers to thrash me for two weeks before sending me an email. Why wouldn't the plaintiff contact me directly?

Maybe it's more fun to watch your minions swat a perceived perpetrator like a piñata.

Mature individuals tackle an issue at its source. Is that too logical? Too time-consuming? Too considerate?

Bashing someone on Facebook is like flipping them the finger. Things we wouldn't do or say in person, we perform with impunity in cyberspace. As if the person in the profile photo is merely a meme, or an avatar disembodied from its human.

Page polluters are another peeve. They remind me of the time a runner darted into my neighbour's garden in America to relieve herself during an apparent attack of gastrointestinal distress, in full view of the resident pre-schooler.

The next time the child saw the woman, he pointed and told his mum, "Look, it's The Pooper!"

Whenever a Facebook acquaintance who rarely weighs in on anything personal but always manages to comment on the occasional political discussion I've joined on someone else's page, I think, "Look, it's The Pooper!"

Uncanny, how acolytes find the stop dot in a sea of prose. I don't require a social media circle of yes-men (and women); but it's pointless to proclaim love for your politician/personal saviour in response to the funny video I just shared.

Would you defend a candidate or policy in person in response to my question about your family, dog or job? Then don't do it on my Facebook page.

I'm undecided whether girls who raised their middle fingers on Snapchat deserved to be ousted from the softball tournament.

Six teens participated, yet the entire team suffered. What I do know - what I tell my own kids - is resist the impulse to share comments and images on social media we wouldn't share in person.

Keep the birds from flying. Relieve yourself in the appropriate forum. Better yet, fertilise your own cyber lawn.