Let’s stop pretending online isn’t real life

online hate

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.

Arrow 2How do you deal with the incessant negativity?


Linking up with Kylie Purtell – Capturing Life and IBOT 

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.

58 thoughts on “Let’s stop pretending online isn’t real life

  1. Josefa says:

    Online can no longer be anything but real life. The ship sailed long ago when people could even say that there was a difference, let alone use it as an excuse for bad behaviour. Bad behaviour should not be tolerated. Negativity in my life is not welcome. It may seem black and white, but I have learnt the long way that is what works for me, in real life and online

    • Robyna says:

      That’s a wonderful attitude to have. I agree – no excuses for behaving terribly and it’s great when people like Clementine Ford call it out for what it is and people do experience the consequences of their chosen actions.

    • Robyna says:

      Thanks Em. We really need to stop the blind following of masses when someone is being pummelled online. There is an awful mass glee about it all.

  2. Hugzilla says:

    Thank you for so elegantly articulating the weary swirl of thoughts that have been trapped in my head for the last few days. This shit is tiring. So tiring. And we all walk around with targets on our back, no matter how innocuous the content. This could have been any one of us.

    • Robyna says:

      I found it completely emotionally draining. While I wouldn’t say the content that started the ball rolling was entirely innocuous, it certainly in no way deserved the vitriol it attracted. But do we have to be so carefully tame to avoid it? I mean, I’m always carefully tame, but I don’t want the whole internet to read like that. There must be some tolerance for different opinions.

    • Robyna says:

      And yet it is so public and on FB etc. people aren’t hiding their identities. It’s quite an astounding mentality when you think about it.

  3. Nicole says:

    Brilliantly said! If only those questions could be mandatory checkboxes before you could publish comments online! Sadly though, asking if certain people would say hurtful things face to face may not be so helpful.

    • Robyna says:

      If you want to catch up, it will be easy enough to find. Harder to avoid, in fact. But it’s all about finding a way we can express ourselves online in safe spaces.

  4. Vanessa says:

    You know, I sometimes laugh quietly to myself when I see programs about teaching people online etiquette. But then I realise that the internet I’ve always hung out it, back in the day or now, have been very special and supportive corners.
    Vanessa recently posted…Beach SerenityMy Profile

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  6. Sandra Kelly says:

    Brilliant and gracious considered writing. I like the distinction between “in real life” and “face to face”. I’ve often thought we should use the term “in person” instead of “in real life”. I love everything about this post. You are a beautiful caring person Robyna. Xx

  7. Denyse says:

    You have expressed the points so very well. I too am affected by the negativity (in this most recent issue of “note”) but I do not have the energy to battle so I switch off and self-protect. Self-care is essential for me as I can easily ‘wear’ what others’ say and write. Thank you for posting this. Many will see its beneficial message. Denyse #teamIBOT
    Denyse recently posted…My Favourite K-6 Teachers. 366/299.My Profile

  8. Ashleigh Mills says:

    Totally agree. Online is part of our world and part of life. Behind every comment is an actual person with their own feelings…we also get exposed to more views online that we might not be used to. I have a simple strategy, if i don’t like it, I don’t read!

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  10. Michelle says:

    Lovely and thought provoking post as always Robyna! I’ve also missed what I presume was the catalyst – am not going to go looking for it though. I can guess. It’s just so draining to even think about, people pretending that the venom they aim at total strangers is acceptable because it’s online and ‘just words’. Words are powerful, online IS real life, and thank you for pointing it out.
    PS I hope the trolls have gone back to their caves.

    • Robyna says:

      I’m glad you missed it – not the nicest sides of human behaviour on display. And such a waste of emotional energy that could have been directed towards the things we really SHOULD be outraged about.

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