My corner of the internet is an innocuous one. Pretty things people have made. Fashion. The usual ups and downs of parenthood. Cute photos of cute kids. American election memes. But lately a lot of online hate has crept in.
Not directly. But it has seeped into my feed and the heat of the vitriol has surprised me. I wish I could say I was able to just look away, but I haven’t. I have been caught on the side of the road, gawping at the car crashes and wondering how on earth we managed to get here. Apparently the internet remains the lawless Wild West. Things people would never do offline are acceptable online.
I see very few people shouting obscenities at strangers in public places. Surprisingly most of us manage to hold it in, even when confronted with opinions we disagree with. The kinds of people that do are avoided and pitied. We cross the road and hasten our steps. We worry about their mental health and our safety. We don’t hurl abuse back, we don’t applaud them and we certainly don’t join in. Yet online everyone is invited to forgo the social conventions we learned in kindergarten. And so many accept with destructive glee.
Perhaps we should stop differentiating between “real life” and “online”. Because the people hurling abuse online are real. The people absorbing the abuse are real. The feelings are real and the repercussions are real. We all KNOW this. We know where cyber bullying can lead.
Everyone should feel safe in voicing a measured opinion. The vast canvas of the internet is more than capable of accommodating a great tapestry of view points. The expression of an opinion that differs from another is not an invitation to a personal attack. Nor is it an excuse to launch one. Someone placing an opinion into the ether of the internet is inviting commentary. Not personal abuse. There is very clear line between those two things.
People say terrible things under the guise of free speech and what they are doing is suffocating the very thing they pretend to hold dear. When dissenting opinions are buried under an avalanche of hateful comments, who is likely to dissent? When respectful commentary is rendered impossible by a litany of “f$& you”s, freedom of speech is flattened. When we take away measured, intelligent debate and replace it with school yard obscenities we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn from each other and expand our points of view.
I wish that comments were prefaced with thought.
I wish these thoughts were among them:
- Am I creating or destroying?
- Am I supporting someone or tearing someone down? (Tearing one person down doesn’t support another)
- Would I publish this comment if I was the only person in this feed expressing this view point?
- Does what I am saying hold a modicum of intrinsic value?
- Does this truly reflect who I am?
Actually, it all comes down to one thing: Would I say this directly to this person’s face? Would I say this in “real life?” Because we are.
We are saying these things in real life.
How do you deal with the incessant negativity?
Given recent events, a number of bloggers are expressing their view on expressing opinions. We are using the hashtag #idratherbeme and stand as individuals in solidarity.