Online Negativity: How to Create a Better Internet for Everyone
Recently, I have been seeing frequent incidences of negativity online. For example, people snapping at each other. People criticizing at every single thing. People losing their temper at one another.
While I don’t remember when the internet became such an angry place, I do remember it used to be more peaceful and welcoming. This was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when people were generally supportive and having actual conversations online (as opposed to the sarcastic swipes we see today). I was already running my own websites and web communities then, though not on self-help, and had a great time connecting with others online.
These days, things seem different. As the number of internet users has jumped 20-fold in the past 16 years to over 2.9 billion web users today (that’s over 40% of the world’s population!) and as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter helm the online web space today, the online space seems to have turned quite angsty. Nowadays, it is quite rare to see proper conversations unfold between two strangers on the web. Nowadays, people seem to just burst into anger and call each other names after a few exchanges. Have you been observing the same thing as well?
My Experience with Negative Remarks
As you guys know, I recently closed comments at PE. It wasn’t totally due to negative comments, though the increasing negativity of comments got me thinking about the role of comments on PE, which then led to the closure. The negative comments were more of a catalyst than a cause.
Before, I was receiving negative comments every week to every other week. Sometimes they were snarky. Sometimes they were personal attacks. Sometimes they were critical remarks about my work or myself. While I’d usually brush away the bad remarks, sometimes there were that would sting, especially when they got very negative and 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 quite 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.
Surprised, I looked up this person’s profile online… 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 work experience, and used to teach. And he is a local, ironically. Whatever the typical profile of people who’d post internet snark is, this guy definitely doesn’t fit into that.
Here is a fully grown adult with the skills and know-how to be empathetic and kind, yet deliberately chose to be unkind, I thought. Surely this guy is supportive to his own students, his friends, his family, and the strangers he meets in real life. Surely we would have no problem having a civil conversation should we meet as strangers in real life.
It was obvious that this guy would know, above others (as a mature adult and as someone who interacts with kids), the importance of being civil in a conversation, yet he chose not to be.
Why did he choose to be callous? I wondered. Why attack me when I’m just trying to run my blog and do 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
I feel that that’s the crux of much online negativity these days — that many people forget that behind every social media profile, at the receiving end of every online communication, is a human being. A real person with conscious thoughts and feelings.
You see online hate wars. People who name and shame others on their social media or websites, which subsequently leads to the latter getting attacked by other people — strangers even. For the victims (the people being attacked), it must be a vilifying experience. Yet, there are people who goad the attacker on, who thrive in such drama, and who even jump on board to attack the victim. (Note that cyberbullying has already 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, pin-pointing 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 blast others at the slightest disagreement, including simply having a difference in viewpoint.
You see critical comments on blogs and YouTube. People who tear apart online content, criticize the content creator in question, and then complain about how the content is lacking X or doesn’t have Y. While every content creator wants to create the best content for their audience and every audience member certainly 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 work 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, who is using their online profile to connect with others and live their life. No different than you and me.
So 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 🙂 –
- 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. ♥
- 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
- 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.
- Be nice. Use this 3-question rule. Before posting anything online, ask these 3 questions:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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. 😀 Read: Are You Emotionally Generous? and Kindness Challenge Day 5: Give a Genuine Compliment to 3 People
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 than otherwise. 🙂
Remember, the internet is ultimately powered by people, for people. Let’s not forget that behind every online comment, article, e-book, video, website, and social media profile, is a human being. Despite being located in different parts of the world, we’re somehow miraculously connected, thanks to the web. 🙂 Let’s all work hand-in-hand to support each other in our life’s journey. 🙂
Check out the 14-Day Kindness Challenge for 14 acts of kindness over 14 days: 14-Day Kindness Challenge
Some articles of my past experiences with negative remarks and how I dealt with them:
- 9 Reasons Why Criticism is Good
- Stand Up for Yourself (My Response to a Hate Comment)
- Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise