The Internet is a wonderful thing – it gives us unprecedented access to information, has enabled expansion of global networks and has provided ways for people to build new social groups and make connections with others.
But people on the Internet can be jerks.
While the Internet provides lots of opportunities to create safe spaces and bring together groups that may be marginalized or even just offer platforms for people to participate in other social groups, the relative anonymity makes it much easier to treat others poorly. After all, it’s just an online comment, right?
We joke about flame wars or how we shouldn’t read the comment section but why don’t we address the fact that these behaviours are inappropriate? Most people would self-censor these behaviours in their daily lives. Most people wouldn’t engage in a comments-section-worthy screaming match in a public forum as regularly as they do online! I’d argue that the Internet is a magnifier, allowing positive movements and connections to flourish while also allowing mean and hurtful actions to grow unchecked. After all, most penalties for unacceptable behaviour in online communities are easy to get around. It can be as easy as creating a new account.
It’s so much easier to excuse your own bad behaviour online because, most often, you don’t have to see the results of your actions. Some guys wouldn’t think twice about sending unsolicited dick pics but they’d probably think a bit longer before flashing someone and risking charges. Entire forums exist where women gossip about popular bloggers and judge what they do and figure out personal details of their lives.
This kind of behaviour would be considered a troubling example of bullying but online it’s just a fascinating click-baity forum. We often stop filtering what we say and forget to consider other opinions. Yes, that essay or article might go against what you think or that commenter might be completely wrong but you could probably have a better debate and exchange of ideas if you didn’t write it in all-caps and sandwich it between a few slurs and profanity.
Even though the disconnect from other people can make it easy to forget that their experience of the situation is just as real as yours, it’s essential to remember that they’re experiencing your behaviour in a very real way. That unsolicited
dick pic is another time that young woman has to experience unwanted sexual advances (remember, just because some-one has an online dating profile doesn’t mean that they’re inviting that kind of attention or that they’ll automatically be interested in you). Those cruel comments on forums are visible to everyone, including the person being discussed; pulling up their personal information, doxxing them or digging into the lives of their family and friends is hurtful at the very least and can seriously put them in an unsafe situation. Those comment-section flamewars? Those make you look foolish and impulsive while only exacerbating problems.
We have so many opportunities online to lift each other up and build stronger communities if we don’t fall into the easy trap of being jerks online! Next time you feel the siren song of the comment section, resist or be critical about what you’re going to say. Does it add positive value to the conversation? Swiping away on Tinder? Rather than be mean to the fat chick who’s totally not worth your time, just swipe left until you find someone you do find attractive. Hate-reading a blog? Instead of going onto a forum to tear their crappy post and life decisions apart, close the tab and find something else to read.
The Internet is a massive, beautiful thing. I wish more people would remember that there are real people, with real feelings, behind every username.
Danielle Fuechtmann, Editor-in-Chief