March 11, 2011 by Rhi
Remember this little incident? Not wishing to stir it all up again, but this week the person involved has again been making enemies on the internet by lifting comments out of context from a third party message board, and ridiculing their intellect. Same old, same old. The defence of those actions left me baffled, given the reasons I was given for not being allowed to comment on others writings, but that’s by the by.
In any case, I have a great deal of sympathy. And I’ve got no intention of pointing and laughing. It’s not cool, and considering the woman is heavily pregnant, I would imagine this is the last thing she needs at the moment. However, it’s got me to thinking about the way we interact with others around the web, and what is acceptable fallout. Is it alright to expect that someone be able to write and express opinions which others find objectionable (and I’m not talking exclusively about this example) without expecting someone to come back at you? Is the internet different to real life, in terms of speaking your mind?
If you’re going to take a very strong standpoint on issues, it’s all very well having the words and intellect to phrase that argument in a cohesive way. But I’ve learned the hard way that, before you put fingers to keyboard, you need to make sure that you have the strength and mental capacity to fight back when the critics pile in – which they will. Even for someone as liberal as I am, there’s always someone out there who won’t agree.
Here’s the problem – the internet is different to real life. And whilst a lot of commenters forget, sometimes, that there’s a real person behind the words on the screen, I think also some bloggers forget that, those “flamers” (or rather, the people who disagree with you) aren’t taking against you, they’re taking against what you’ve written. The online persona you’ve created with words and opinions is what they object to – not the lovely person your friends see you to be. I used to know a bloke who was lovely – good fun to be with, threw awesome parties, was a devoted father and grandfather. But he was also a bit of a racist. Now, I always called him on it whenever he said something I objected to. But it was done in the knowledge that this wasn’t someone who was horrible – just someone who occasionally expressed horrible views. It was done in the context of him being my friend.
That’s not what happens online. And those expressing the opinion have to take the responsibility for the fallout from their writing, I think. If you are writing posts and blogs, where you attempt to belittle others opinions, and how they’ve expressed them (especially whilst at the same time commenting on how well-read and intelligent you are) then you can’t expect them not to get upset by it. Even if they haven’t been named a shamed, THEY know its them you’re getting at. In real life, if someone walked in on you having a conversation where you were ridiculing them and their opinions, you wouldn’t be surprised if they took offence at that. So why is it different on the internet? Because they’re faceless people on a message board? But then, you’re a faceless person to them. If you take so little time to consider other people’s feelings, then you can’t be surprised when they don’t stop to consider yours.
Most of the time, internet debates focus on ideology. I can argue with someone til the cows come home about all manner of subjects, without losing any respect for them, or without thinking any the worse of them. But just sometimes, you have to accept that you aren’t going to get anywhere with a person, and you need to stop poking the bear. I’ve walked away from hundreds of debates, and after a while it’s all died down. I don’t think those who disagree with me are wrong, they just see things differently. That’s OK. We’re allowed to have different opinions. But at the end of the day, if I am willing to put my opinion out there, I have to pretty sure I can deal with the fallout of that opinions – whether the responses are positive or negative. And I have a great deal of sympathy for people who start out with good intentions of having their side of the argument heard, even when they know it’s not the “acceptable” line of reasoning, who then find themselves digging an ever deeper hole of hatred for themselves, simply because to stop talking makes them feel as though they are capitulating.
Sometimes, letting it go is the only option. And sometimes, you need to give people – however obnoxious they seem to be in writing – the benefit of the doubt. When it comes down to it, they’re the same as you – a nobody on the internet writing reams of piffle in the vague attempt to have their voice heard by someone. If they really are as horrid as they seem, then real life is the place for them to find that out – not via their email inbox or in the comments section. Perhaps we need to entertain the thought more that maybe, just maybe, they are every bit as right as you think they are. Irresistible force meets immovable object never ends well.