Confessions of a Facebook Arguer
So, the internet is teeming with anti-social and borderline (and full blown) sociopathic behavior. This really isn’t news. But I’ve recently wondered why this technology that has nearly consolidated the whole of human knowledge, made worldwide communication essentially instantaneous, and revolutionized how we spend our leisure time has also revealed some of the most base and vile aspects of humanity as well. I’ve also been concerned because I want my kids to use the internet without people modeling this insane behavior.
Then I had a thought: “Maybe people just don’t know how the internet works!”
From the way people behave, it sure seems like they picture it this way:
But recent research has painted a different picture of how the internet works:
Shocking! Those wires or that satellite dish leading away from your house will eventually broadcast the message you send to other actual human beings. So, now that you know, it would be pretty awesome if you’d just stop being so awful to these other human beings, who, you know, exist in reality.
And while we’re here, it’d probably be useful for you to know that the internet is not separate from real life. It is an aspect of real life. If you went back in time 30 years and started mailing people letters telling them that they were a “f-g moron, and they should die in a gas fire” because you disagreed with them, you’d be a pretty crazy person, right? Can you imagine licking the stamp, addressing the envelope, putting the little flag on your mailbox up, and smugly walking back to your house knowing that you pwned someone?
Me neither. My guess is you aren’t out there pwning people on the internet because it’s a great time in and of itself, or you’re trying to rid the world of whatever ideological scourge you believe plagues it, you’re doing it for the desperate approval you seek from your Facebook/YouTube/Forum groupies who come pile on whatever n00b you happen to be pwning that day. Or maybe you are doing it because you just like to hurt people’s feelings but are too cowardly (or possibly lazy?) to do this in real life. Or maybe you were just properly socialized… you know, you actually feel badly when you see you’ve said something that hurt someone else’s feelings or threatened them. But you are too disconnected from reality to make the connection that your words will be seen by, again, actual breathing people on planet Earth.
Or maybe it makes you feel less alone to be part of the group who is doing the attacking rather than being snickered at while the cool people in school lobbed French fries at you. Maybe the internet is like an interactive Fox News or MSNBC to you, where you can go and only choose to listen to those people who agree with you, except with the added bonus of being able to emotionally lynch a member or two of a group you are prejudiced against. I’m trying to empathize here, but it really isn’t easy.
And FYI, when I enter a conversation where you’re engaging in whatever stereotyping/piling on/general meanness you’re up to, saying “Bro, this is this internetz!! Lighten up!!” isn’t going to make me think you are any different than the 7th graders I work with, who say “We were just kidding!” when I confront them about bullying someone else. The internet is not some fake place where what you say doesn’t matter (see diagram above), it’s a real place, where you are interacting with real people. And I’M not the one taking crazy pills because you think otherwise.
And if you really don’t care about other people and secretly wish you could be this mean in real life, and that religious people/republicans/people who are new to Reddit/little kids who make Thomas the Tank Engine videos of poor quality just deserve all the abuse you heap on them, perhaps I can appeal to your own rational self-interest. When you spending all of your time judging people and calling them names, or engaging in self-congratulatory piling on against other human beings, or heaven forbid firing off racial/gender-based/belief-based epithets, you are getting your mind in the habit of causing harm. This isn’t natural for you. Again, it’s why we look back at members of the Ku Klux Klan and feel revulsion, but also pity. Can you imagine being so full of hate (and simultaneous shame) that you try to cover your face with a hood in order to hurl insults and threats of violence against other people? Do you even realize that some people (and possibly you) are using the internet as the 21st century solution to the KKK hood, but then shrug their shoulders and disclaim this behavior because, “It’s the internet, what do you expect???” There’s a reason human beings over time have trended toward more peaceful social interaction toward one another. You’ve probably noticed us moving in the direction of inclusion –women can vote (and you can’t hit them at home), black people can use the same water fountains as white people, gay people can get married in some places. It’s all because the more kindly we treat people, the better things are for all of us.
So yes – today I am coming out of the closet as a Facebook arguer. You may think I’m wasting my time because you’re part of the cultural delusion that some difference exists between words shared in person and words shared digitally. The only difference that exists is your ability to see the people who you are hurting, or who are learning from your example. The internet is basically the awesomest thing to ever happen to communication between human beings, and if you use this resource to try and communicate (even in earnest disagreement and debate), or learn new ideas, or look at picture of LOLcatz, we’ve got no problem. But if you’re going to go out and use the possibilities for relative anonymity to get out your cave-man bullying impulses, I’m not going to excuse your behavior because you think hurting people in relative anonymity is qualitatively different than hurting them face to face.
Just like I wouldn’t sit by and let you yell at someone in real life, or call them names, or otherwise abuse them, I don’t feel compelled to watch it happen and not say something on the internet, either. Because the internet IS real life, you just haven’t figured that out, yet.
So, if you’re reading this, please, just go out and spread the word: real human beings are able to see what you write on the internet. And if you see someone who doesn’t seem to be aware of this, doing the tough thing and sending them a polite message stating your disapproval might go a long way. Either way, you may just chip away at making this part of the world a better place.