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The Loss of Civility Through the Anonymous Internet

By Edited Nov 19, 2015 11 19

Really?  Did you have to say that?

I am a thin-skinned soft heart, I admit it.  A pansy, a Pollyanna, someone who always expects to the see the good in people, and is reluctant to accept anything bad.  I really do try to se the bright side of things.  It annoys my friends.  Maybe it’s this streak of optimistic innocence that leaves me feeling so shocked when someone is hurtful.  I don't understand why that would be the response and I just never want to believe that another person could want anything but the best for others.  Yes, we all have our moments wherein we say something that really shouldn’t have been said, but when you have time to think about it because you have to write it down and then send it, you have time to decide not to hit that 'submit' button.  Sadly, in this age of anonymity, it seems that being a horrible human being on a regular basis is becoming the new normal.  It shows up in all sorts of venues, even those you don't expect.

 

It happens on social media[1]
grouchy woman

I started seeing this on Facebook; friends (real friends, people I have lunch with) would update their status to reflect some cruel dig at some other group of people.  Bigotry thinly washed with righteousness, or even a complete trampling and rewriting of facts to say something mean.  This is sometimes played off as “it’s all in fun!” well, no, it isn’t.  Deliberately saying something hurtful and mean, especially when followed by some variation of ‘because I’m so much more Christian than you’ is not fun.  I’m not at all religious, but I’m pretty sure none of the popular religions include a paragraph that says “and thou shalt spread my word by showing all how much better thou art than them”. Somewhere along the line I remember hearing things like ‘judge not…’, and ‘do unto others…’  Clearly I’ve only heard about the fantasy religions in storybooks.  Real-life religion never seems to be quite as nice  I suppose Facebook has allowed me to see a side of my “friends” that I would otherwise have never seen.  This was probably the most unexpected to me.  I assumed that interacting with someone in real life over several years would have allowed me to see all sides of that person.  Apparently not.

It happens in open forums

mean kid
The same sort of thing prevails in open online forums[2].  All you are is a picture and a made up name.  You can say anything, right?  What does it matter if your words put down other people, or dismiss their ideas?  You have an anonymous presence, and you have the right to be as nasty as you want because your opinions are clearly superior and need to be promoted at all costs.  If you make some people mad, all the better, it gives you more chances to spit your vitriolic spite, I mean, 'explain your point of view'.  And you’re a member too, so everyone HAS to listen to you or they can just go away.  Well, I guess these types of people have done something for the internet world.  They have prompted the invention of the “block” button.  This is sort of interaction is perhaps a little more understandable, since all you have in common is whatever random event brought you to the forum.  A common interest in chickens doesn't mean you have the same views on anything else.  Maybe religious forums are nicer.  Maybe.

It happens in closed writers groups

grumpy girl
Sadly, this sort of thing carries to private forums too, the ones without a ‘block’ button, because it’s assumed that everyone will be civil.  I guess mean people are everywhere.  It makes me wonder how I’ve managed to avoid them for so long in my life.  More importantly, what can I do to avoid them again?  On Facebook, I can unfriend (and I have), I liberally use the ‘block’ button on open forums, but I’m stuck with what to do about the closed forums. Never use the site again?  Tempting, but I joined it for a reason.  Bag that site and try to find one without trolls?  That seems to me to be the online equivalent of quitting a job to avoid the office politics; you just end up with different politics.  What then is the answer?  I just can’t imagine that people who are now choosing to be nasty horrible people because they can hide behind a computer screen are ever going to change.  I guess I just don’t know.

Is it a lost cause?

grumpy cat
It makes me sad when I make a seemingly innocuous post on a forum or social media site and someone responds with something hateful, cruel, or spiteful. The anonymity you get from the faceless interface (ironic word, now that I think about it) gives people the freedom to reply with horrible things that they would never say in person.  Is this a decline in society being exacerbated by easy access to virtual victims?  Have some people always been that horrible and just feel more comfortable being themselves when their face is a cartoon or a puppy?  Again, I just don’t know.  I know, the obvious answer is that I need to change, either my internet use or my response (public or private), deciding how to go about that will take a little work.

 I suppose there must be some good side to this; isn’t there always a good side?  Maybe the people with empty souls who revel in provoking through the internet find it easier to pretend they are good when interacting in real life.  Maybe they live longer by transferring their hate to strangers.  Or maybe they just keep the nice people off the internet, and involved in real life.

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Comments

Mar 8, 2013 6:05pm
Marlando
I liked your article but permit me to add insult to injury by saying, most people who say "mean" and "hurtful" things to othesr are typically either stupid or emotionally immature--this is true in life and life on the net.Not always but in general when your read insulting and angry rsponses on the net, they typically reveal a childish--not like-like--mentality. And speaking of this, just think of how so much sexism and racism that has weaved through our own culture--what is less mindful and kind than this? Anywy, 2 big thumbs and rating from me.
Mar 8, 2013 6:10pm
JestMe
These things are true. The prevalence of sexism and racism in society make me think that some people disguise these emotions for day-to-day interactions, but, for whatever reason, feel free to spread them in print.

Thanks for reading and taking that extra moment to comment.
Aug 25, 2014 2:48am
Yindee
I have just been looking at the faceless Facebook statistics. New diseases such as Facebook depression and Facebook addiction have turned this sort of facility into a channel to express your low self esteem by secretly pecking at other people. Thumbs up - I will link this article to mine.
Mar 9, 2013 3:39pm
chopsooy
This is something that I too think about all the time. You know I've noticed youtube is one of the worst places. The spiteful and hurtful comments that people leave on some poor persons video...I just look and really wonder where these people are coming from. It does filter into our society and , i dunno, maybe it's all linked into upbringing? I mean to say, that I was always taught to be civil and if you don't particularly have something nice or good to say...then don't say it all. It's all very sad
Mar 9, 2013 3:56pm
JestMe
Oh, you're right. I forgot about YouTube. Yes, some things people say are just appalling. And what have they gained by being so spiteful and mean? Do they look in the mirror and think "golly, I was a total butthead today! Gosh I feel good about that!"
Apr 22, 2013 4:05am
ceciliacordero
Nice article. Thumbs up!

This is something that I have noticed as well these past few years (I've been online since '98, so I've witnessed the Internet, or at least the culture it is reflecting, change drastically)

One thing about vaguebooking (it's what people call the act of posting ambiguous status updates on facebook) is that a lot of the people who do it seem to believe that they're just "letting out steam."

I've read another article (I think it was in Cracked) that cited studies about how the acts people do to "let out steam" don't actually work. In fact, it makes things worse because it has a tendency to reaffirm the feelings (instead of forgetting, they end up reminding themselves of the feeling)

Personally, what I hate about vaguebooking is that it stunts healthy communication. People who really need to talk to each other in order to resolve issues just bottle it up and get all passive aggressive by vaguebooking all over the place.
Apr 24, 2013 10:18am
JestMe
I agree, the only thing "letting out stem" does is to make other people boil.

It does make you wonder if this age of electronics is really destroying our ability to connect on a human level.
Apr 22, 2013 1:17pm
curiosity44
JestMe, it is amazing how people can be so uncivil and cruel on the Internet. You can talk to someone in a respectable way without insulting them or being rude. Some of the most mean-spirited comments are made on Social Media. Some people are cowards and would never tell someone these nasty comments to their face. Fortunately, most people are civil. Thank you for writing this article.
Apr 24, 2013 10:19am
JestMe
Well thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

Maybe the only way to fight rude is by being nice....
Apr 22, 2013 1:51pm
jengojengo
I'm a pansy too, JestMe...you're not alone!
Apr 24, 2013 10:19am
JestMe
Pansies unite!!!
Apr 23, 2013 10:45am
xscottbx
This is a great read. I think an issue too is, people can say things without accountability. Which can lead to some people spewing some of the babble that they do.
Apr 24, 2013 10:21am
JestMe
Yes, without accountability. That's the perfect way of phrasing it! It's funny though, you'd think since there words are more or less permanent when on the internet that people would feel more accountable.
Apr 24, 2013 11:55am
Wesman_Todd_Shaw
Thanks for writing this.

Whenever and if I have to, I simply will call someone out as being a coward who would not say this or that were their face and their actual name attached to their profile.

That is the truth of it, really. People feel safe and insulated to just be as mean as possible due entirely to anonymity.
Apr 26, 2013 6:28am
JestMe
It's good that you do that and I'm curious if you've had any success with it. I find that most people deny that they meant their statement in the way I interpreted it, or they simply hand wave and say it was all in good fun.
Apr 25, 2013 5:53pm
smorris
Well written! Civility has certainly suffered in the mass anonymity of the internet. I think that the lack of civility is just a symptom of a larger problem. We are using text, email, blogs, Facebook, etc. to share our lives. And yet it seems as though we are losing the ability to truly communicate in person. Many times I see comments misconstrued or misunderstood. As humans upwards of 80% of our communication is through non-verbals that are impossible to share in an online world. When it comes to the lack of civility on the internet remember that we can't please everyone and shouldn't try. But we should examine those harsh comments in case they speak some truth to us that we should take to heart. What do you think?
Apr 26, 2013 6:30am
JestMe
It's really hard to say since I think that the truth is usually not understood until a dialogue has taken place. Just calling someone a moron may have a basis in truth for that situation but it can't be the whole story.
Apr 28, 2013 10:14am
jindovina
Great Article!
Somehow, somewhere we (as a Society) have decided that the best way to Validate Oneself is by Invalidating Others...and what better way to do that than in Cyberspace where it's "Safe"...?

Perhaps one day (after the Zombie Apocalypse, as we all sip rum drinks on our 40-footers!) those that are still around will get back to Civility and "doing unto others..."
May 4, 2013 7:55am
JestMe
Yes, maybe the best strategy is just to run away. :)
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Bibliography

  1. "Social Media." Social Media - Wikipedia. 18/08/2013 <Web >
  2. "Internet forum." Internet forum - Wikipedia. 18/08/2013 <Web >

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