I know you feel protected and mildly invincible behind the screen of that device you’re reading this on right now, but those feelings have created some negativity in their wake. I’m talking about the vitriolic comments that people would (likely) not make if they weren’t hiding behind their computers and mobile devices. I’m talking about the hatred that fills the comments sections of the internet. I’m talking about discourse that would make your mother roll her eyes and slap your mouth if she read it.
You know what I’m talking about. The Indy Star recently did a special on this where reporters read some of the most horrible comments on their writing. Even poor Matt Lauer was a target when he stepped in for Bob Costas’ crusty eyes on Olympics coverage. These are just two examples from my personal sphere on the internet in the past 24 hours; this stuff is everywhere. And it needs to stop.
How about from this moment on we each make a commitment to be a little less off-the-cuff snarky and a lot more thoughtfully supportive in our everyday internettings? I’m not sure when it became “cool” to be an internet troll, but if literature has taught us anything, it’s that trolls never win in the end. (Just look at the stone trolls from The Hobbit.)
This isn’t to say you can’t be witty in your online discourse. My friend Ben (he’s amazing, by the way) is the master of this. And while sometimes his puns have a bit of a pointed jab to them, you don’t question the intent behind them. His wit is never out for blood, but the humor of it never suffers for it. And Ben never lets a focus on being “the funniest in all the internet land” get in the way of being helpful either. See, there’s a difference between being a snark-shark asshole and being a witty human being.
Google “internet snark,” and you’ll return thousands of results: discussion on its origins, advice on how to deal with it, and open letters like this one that tell people to cut the crap. But perhaps the most powerful of all of the search results are the ones that detail personal struggles with internet snark and online bullying. Will Matt Lauer read every single scathing comment made about him online during his coverage of the Olympics? I highly doubt it. But those Indy Star reporters? They do read the comments, and they don’t have skin made of steel.
We don’t have to go all “Kumbaya” and hold hands here. But the ratio of internet snark to civil, productive discourse is spinning out of control. We each have the power to help stop it. The next time you feel a snark attack coming on, just step away from the keyboard and say “no.” Don’t sit around and bitch about shit just for the sake of complaining. (If something really bothers you, CHANGE it. Whoa, now there’s a concept!) Don’t patronize the snark market. Don’t feed the trolls. And never-ever-ever read the comments. I leave you with some old advice (replace “speak” with “type”)…