Online Negativity: How To Create a Better Internet For Everyone

It’s so common to see negativity online today. People getting irritated and snapping at each other in social media. People criticizing every little thing in reddit, YouTube, and blog comments.

I remember when things used to be more peaceful online. This was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when people were generally supportive and would have actual conversations with each other on the internet (as opposed to the sarcastic swipes we see today). I was already creating websites and managing web communities then, and would have a great time interacting with complete strangers every day.

These days, things have become different. As the number of internet users exploded to over 2.9 billion web users and as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter helm the online world, the online space has become quite angsty. These days, it is quite rare to see people interacting like civilized humans online. These days, people seem to get angry and call each other names after a few exchanges. Have you noticed the same thing too?

My Experience with Negative Remarks

As you guys know, I recently closed the blog comments at PE. It wasn’t totally due to negative comments, though the increasing negativity of comments got me thinking about the role of blog comments on PE, after which I decided to close them. Negative comments were a catalyst rather than the root cause.

Before closing comments, I was receiving negative comments every 1-2 weeks. Sometimes they were snarky. Sometimes they were personal attacks. Sometimes they were critical remarks about me or my work. While I’d usually brush away the bad remarks, sometimes they would sting, especially when they were very rude and got personal.

A Snarky Remark

This reminds me of a time when someone attacked me with a snide remark. While I’ve received many snide remarks before, this one was very condescending and attacked my nationality. It was clearly a comment from someone who doesn’t follow PE, happened to chance by the site, decided to leave a nasty comment, and then pop out.

Curious, I looked up this person’s profile… only to realize that this is a guy in his late 30s (if not early 40s), is well-educated with a degree, has a fair body of professional experience, and used to teach. And he is from Singapore, same as me. Whatever the usual profile of people who post internet snark is, this guy doesn’t fit that.

Here is a full-grown adult with the skills and knowledge to be empathetic and kind, yet he chooses to be unkind. Surely this guy is supportive of his students, friends, family, and the strangers he meets in real life? Surely we would have no problem having a civil conversation if we were to meet as strangers in real life?

It was obvious that this guy knows the importance of being kind and civil (as a mature adult and as someone who interacts with kids), yet he chose not to be.

Why was he so rude? I wondered. Why attack me when I’m just running my blog and doing my thing — and I wasn’t even being rude to him or anybody? (We don’t even know each other??) Why be rude when he could easily be kind and sensitive?

As I wrapped up my search, the only conclusion I could think of was,

I guess… he simply forgot that I’m a human being.

Humans Interacting with Humans

Friends talking

(Image: belushi)

I feel that this is the crux of much online negativity these days — that many people forget that behind every social media profile is a human being. A real person with conscious thoughts and feelings.

You see online hate wars. People who name and shame others on social media or their websites, after which the victim gets jumped on by others, almost all of which don’t even know him/her. It’s a very primal mob effect. For the people being attacked, it must be a vilifying experience. Yet, there are those who goad the attacker on, who enjoy such drama, and who jump in to attack the victim. (Note that cyberbullying has claimed innocent lives in our time.)

You see online snark. People who criticize and slam others in online comments. Sometimes, these comments get vulgar. Sometimes, they get judgmental, pinpointing the other person’s looks, religion, nationality, and/or race even though these have nothing to do with the discussion. It seems that these days, people are quick to criticize and blast others at the slightest disagreement, including simply having a different viewpoint.

You see critical comments on blogs and YouTube. People who tear apart online content, criticize the content creator, and then complain about how the content is lacking X or Y. While every content creator wants to create the best content for their audience and every audience member has the right to voice whatever they want (in a constructive manner and within reason), some people seem to forget that behind every blog and YouTube channel is a human being. Someone who’s doing the best they can to create the best content for others.

For every blog, YouTube channel, online comment, and social media profile that we see today, there’s a real person behind it. A person with conscious thoughts and feelings. This person likely has aspirations they are striving for. This person probably has issues that they are dealing with. This person is a human on their life journey, using their online profile to connect with others and live their life. No different than you and me.

As opposed to treating every internet profile as just some emotionless robot or avatar, how about we start to see every web user for who they are — a human being? As opposed to criticizing every person and thing we don’t like or agree with, how about a little kindness and empathy to the fellow web user online?

I have 10 pointers on how we can create a better internet together 

  1. Recognize that everyone online is a real person. Everyone we see online is a real person. Just like you and me, they have conscious thoughts and feelings. Just like you and me, they have hopes, fears, goals, and dreams. Don’t treat them as emotionless sock puppets that you can criticize as you wish. Rather, see them as humans with thoughts and feelings — because that’s who they are.
  2. Be more patient in your interactions. Many people tend to get snappy and rude online — more so than in person. However, there’s no need to do that. Just like you aren’t going to snipe at a random stranger in real life for one or two actions you don’t agree with, there’s no need to hurl abuse or snap at someone online just because they said one or two things you don’t agree with. Be patient and respectful to the other — this will go a long way in creating a positive space for others. Read: How To Be Patient: The Only Guide I’ll Ever Write on Becoming Patient
  3. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes there are people who are really negative in their language/attitude. They make condescending remarks, behave rudely without reason, and are plain disrespectful. While it’s easy to lose your temper and snap at them, give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they had a bad day. Perhaps they’ve been dealing with a lot of negativity in their life. Perhaps they are emotionally vacant. Don’t assume the worst of them; rather, focus on the goodness of others. Because it’s there in everyone.
  4. Be nice. Use this 3-question rule. Before posting anything online, ask these three questions:
    1. Is this something you would say to the person if they are right in front of you? People tend to be ruder online because they forget about the person who will be reading and dealing with the response. You should only post something you are 100% okay to say it in front of the person.
    2. Will this hurt their feelings? Don’t post things that’ll hurt others’ feelings. After all, would you like it if someone posted something that hurts you? Probably not. So don’t do this to other people as well. Act in the way you would like to be treated by another. As the Golden Rule says, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
    3. Would you say this if this person were your friend? If no, is it because your comment is too brash? Too insensitive? Amend it then. I’ve shared about my oneness mindset in my social anxiety article which is to see people as a part of you as opposed to strangers. Rather than alienate, communicate with others like they are people you already know and care for. This will help you to build positive connections and meaningful friendships online.
  5. Focus on encouraging and appreciating (vs. criticizing). So many online comments today seem to focus on criticizing and pinpointing what people don’t like. While there is no right or wrong comment, at the end of the day, what you focus on grows. When you focus on criticizing and pinpointing things you dislike, you give energy and power to the negative things, which subsequently get passed onto others.

    On the other hand, when you focus on the things you do like and openly show appreciation for them, this creates a positive feedback loop which leads to more of such great things. I’ve found that focusing on the strengths of others serves as a much powerful motivator than focusing on their “issues” (which are entirely subjective by the way). I share more in Stop Shaming, Start Praising.

    So, encourage, appreciate, and praise where you can. When you see a piece of work that you enjoy, let the author know. Openly articulate your support and let them know what you like about it. Don’t assume that people would know that they are doing good just because you think it’s good; let them know! You may find a brightened soul at the other end of your message. :D Read: Are You Emotionally Generous? and Kindness Challenge Day 5: Give a Genuine Compliment to 3 People

  6. Be constructive in your criticism. In the times when criticism is necessary, focus on giving constructive criticism. Don’t make personal attacks or load people with grievances that may not have anything to do with them. Read: How To Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips
  7. Respect people’s opinions. Part of communication is about sharing ideas and learning from one another — not necessarily to “convert” the other person to your school of thought. If someone has a different viewpoint, respect that. Focus on understanding and learning from other’s views, as opposed to judging and pushing your opinion onto them.
  8. Disengage with the unreasonable. Sometimes there are people who get unreasonable. They don’t consider your POV, don’t communicate respectfully, and even make backhanded remarks. With these people, disengage: don’t respond any further and just move on. You don’t need to interact with someone who doesn’t respect you; there’s always a better conversation you can engage in elsewhere.
  9. Ignore the trolls. Trolls are people who create a lot of negativity online. They flame, provoke, and try to sow discord. I’ve come across trolls many times and each time I just block them from my site/profiles. With trolls, ignore and block them. Replying will only encourage more of their troll behavior.
  10. Focus on what you like. At the end of the day, there are all kinds of websites and personalities online. Just as there are websites with “superficial” content, there are sites with “deeper,” more thought-driven content. Just as there are people with brash personalities, there are people with warmer personalities.

    While it may seem instinctual to bash on the sites and people you dislike, how about focusing on the sites and people you do like? I see people who spend an exceeding amount of time on gossip sites and hating on people when this time can be better used on their own dreams, goals, and exploring their interests. Know that the internet is your oyster and you can use it for whatever purpose you like. So how about using it to fuel you in your goals and passions? I guarantee you that it’ll give you better rewards.

Remember, the internet is ultimately powered by people, for people. Let’s not forget that behind every online comment, article, website, video, and social media profile, is a human being.

My past experiences with negative remarks and how I dealt with them: