NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

February 10, 2014

Taming social media's nastier side

The world is a better place with “Mama Bears” like Sue Mitchell and school cultures like Triton Regional School District. They are standing tall for a young local man who deserves to be respected, on an issue that deserves attention.

“Mama Bear” is the nickname for Sue Mitchell, a Salisbury resident and the mother of Sean Mitchell. Her crusade on behalf of her son Sean, 20, has galvanized a legion of supporters and raised some valuable questions about how people conduct themselves on the bareknuckled fringes of “social media.”

Sean has cerebral palsy. He’s well known at Triton, where his positive outlook and doggedness on the athletic field is an inspiration to many.

Through no fault of his own, Sean was thrust into a negative spotlight two weeks ago when a TV camera panning the Boston Bruins bench during a game caught an image of him in the background, eating a hot dog without a bun. He’s not physically able to eat a hot dog with a bun, a fairly common issue for people with cerebral palsy.

The awkward image was picked up and posted on a website called Boston Barstool Sports, a “sports/smut” site that is wildly popular primarily along college age men. The photo was posted with a smart aleck comment, which spurred and fed a host of lewd comments from website readers. The image was taken down after the website’s owner, David Portnoy, was informed that Sean has cerebral palsy.

Sue Mitchell was outraged by what had happened, and certainly no one could blame her — it’s hard to imagine that a young man’s privacy could be trodden on so thoroughly and meanly. She reached out to The Daily News, asking that the paper write a story that explained what had happened and her feelings on the matter. She also sought an apology from Portnoy, which at that point had not yet been extended.

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