People online are crazy. Seriously, sometimes I feel like they’ve lost their minds, and I fear I myself have been that person more than once. But still, it never fails to amaze me how people on the internet can be so mean.
And I’m not talking about simply disagreeing with someone and having a civil exchange of ideas in a thread (does that actually ever happen?). I’m talking about sheer unkindness.
I feel like I don’t even need to give examples – you can say pretty much anything in a Facebook group or commenting on an online article and it is shocking how completely rude people can be – ready to pick apart everything you say that they don’t like by being sarcastic, passive aggressive, or just boldly nasty. I flat out deleted a comment in a local Facebook group recently because a troll was so incensed at the majority of people voicing against what she was for, that I legitimately was concerned for my safety.
And I think I know why this endless cycle of comment debating and nasty jabs is happening – the internet dehumanizes the people on the other side of the screen.
The Person Without A Face
I know for a fact that only the most tactless person you could imagine would say half of the comments you read on any given controversial Facebook post to someone’s face.
Recently a friend and I were chatting in person and a very sensitive parenting subject came up. I noticed how face to face we navigated the situation with charity and tact. It was definitely an area that we did not see eye to eye on and yet we walked away having shared our opposing views without things having become a heated, nasty debate. I respect that she doesn’t see this the same way I do, I understand I likely can’t change that with a few quick comments, and I make peace with those facts.
If this had been brought up in pretty much any online forum, however, this topic immediately would have drawn fierce criticism from both “sides”. Harsh pronunciations about “what kind of parent could do X” are often hurled at the other, and no one ever really “wins.” But it still happens day in and day out when the person we are talking to remains faceless in our minds.
A couple of months ago Ethan and I were at an event where someone recognized me from a Facebook group I admin. After months of being in the same group, it was delightful to meet such a sweet lady in person, but beyond that, it changed me. I immediately noticed how when I saw her post in our group after we bumped into each other that she just seemed so much more “real” to me. She wasn’t a faceless name to me anymore, but a real person I had seen with my own eyes.
When debates are heating up on Facebook, blog comments, or elsewhere online, we just see a name and sometimes a little profile picture and it is so easy to forget that there is another actual person behind the screen. We boldly make our opinions, criticisms, and critiques of what everyone else does and says known without hesitation. (And often without knowing much about a situation personally, something we likely wouldn’t do if we were sitting with a new acquaintance at a party, or visiting an old friend who came to town.)
The Easily Misunderstood Nature Of Text
There is something else that I think makes internet contact so much likely to be aggressive or unkind… text is notoriously easily misunderstood. We have no tone, no facial expression, usually no personal background – nothing to go off of but the words in front of us.
I just had a very unpleasant encounter online where only after a bunch of back and forth did I learn that the person criticizing a blog post I wrote was actually asking me to apologize for having hurt her via my post which she found insensitive… truly, it was a misunderstanding of epic proportion. I *never* would have gotten in to it with her had I understood what was going on behind her screen – I hate conflict and knowing I’ve hurt someone more than anything. Violating my general rule of just not arguing online resulted in exactly what you’d expect, her hurt and offended, me (in my opinion) practically told I have no right to share what resonates with me because it might not be the same for others… and no good came of it.
The lack of background online also causes problems. I’ve experienced it myself and seen it a thousand times… someone in a Facebook group asks for advice regarding X, and everyone suggests that they should be doing Y in the first place. Then the person explains how Y isn’t feasible for them because of these personal reasons, which is why they are seeking advice on doing X in the first place. When we don’t have personal background it’s really easy to criticize the choices of others and assume we have all of the answers – far less likely to happen in person when we see a struggling person in front of us and a fuller picture of what’s going on.
Taking A Step Back
I’ve decided right now to take a step back from most of my Facebook groups except my favorite, trusted one. Lately I’ve been more emotional and sensitive, and it only makes it worse to deal with the conflict of a bunch of people running their mouths online. Sometimes this stuff isn’t even addressed at me, but just reading other people’s ugly back and forth conversations brings me down.
Instead, I’m going to just focus more on reading and pursuing other outlets, letting the anonymous names have at it, wishing we could all eventually remember that there is a person with a face, heart, and feelings on the other side of the screen.