Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ask the Faithful Readers #7: Online Rudeness

Dear Faithful Reader,

I recently read a post by a woman who was experiencing problems in her life and didn't know where to turn. She was obviously in considerable emotional distress. I think many people do this -- we use writing as a form of therapy, a way to organize our thoughts around difficult issues. Blogging has the additional advantage that others can offer supportive comments and helpful advice.

In this case, however, her post drew a nasty response. By pure happenstance I stumbled across another blog where someone published a scathing discussion of this post, ridiculing her and saying in essence how they couldn't believe anyone could be so dim-witted and unable to handle those types of life challenges. I found the lack of empathy to be sad because we all have times when we struggle. What struck me more than anything, though, was the willingness to be rude and attack someone online.

You see, I doubt the same thing would happen in a face-to-face encounter. Imagine a few women are gathered for some social function at your home and this distressed person admits her feelings of anguish. Let's also suppose someone in the crowd is unsympathetic and thinks to herself, "Wow, is she ever dim." How likely do you think this critical person would be to walk up to the sad woman and start ridiculing her? And would the attacker then turn to everyone else in the room and continue the diatribe?

It is easy to forget that our online discussions involve real flesh and blood people on the other end. The folks who read our posts, emails and personal messages have all the same feelings and sensitivities as those with whom we have more direct relationships. The difference is that the Internet provides anonymity and distance. We don't have to see the reaction to our words. In most cases the people on the other end are strangers so there are virtually no negative consequences to fear (e.g. loss of friendship).

Others have recognized this phenomenon. A few nights ago I watched this ABC Primetime Special about an experiment that showed how the anonymity of the Internet can lead to online bullying among teenage girls. Another article is entitled Rampant Rudeness on the Internet.

On the other hand, the vast majority of people I have met online are friendly and respectful. The Faithful Readers who comment on this site tend to be extremely supportive of one another. Stories of close friendships springing up via the Internet are common.

What do you think? In your experience are people more likely to be rude online, or is there the same mix of nice versus not-so-nice you see in everyday life? What suggestions would you offer about interacting with people online?

I will post my personal favorite comment next Saturday with a link to the respondent's blog.

Signed, The Inquiring Advice Guy


  1. People use their blogs for many reasons and when posting about something personal it’s usually trying to get something off their chest and onto a medium where they could look at the problem from the outside hoping to get a better understanding of it.
    Another reason is to get some feed back from readers to see what they have to say because lets face it, with the multitude of bloggers out there will most likely be someone out there that has the similar problem or has gone through the same thing that could offer some advice.
    Now being a public forum and people having different views on an issue, there will be negative feedback and you have to take that with the good or stop blogging and keep your thoughts to yourself.
    I have always had issues with people talking about their partners in a negative way and find it difficult to comment on something where the other half of the story is missing so I usually back away from commenting unless I know the person and what is happening in their life.
    People will have their opinions and have the right to express them as they wish on their blogs and Andrew, if I have something to say to someone on their blog, good or bad, I could tell it to their face as well without a problem because they would be my true feelings and opinions.

    Have a nice weekend

  2. Anonymous12:50 PM

    There are times when bloggging can be a tool for very distructive interactions. Recently, a family member posted that her mil was a c***t,(can I write that here?) When confronted she backed her right to say anything she wanted on the "free speech" arguement. It was very hurtful and caused alot of tension in the family. She eventually called her MIL and left the message "I am sorry for calling you a c***t" yet refused to take it off her blog. I feel this medium can be used in a fashion that allows miserable, angry, cowardly, individuals to have a forum that impowers this negativity. I agree that the majority of users are positive. If you were to read the blog of the person that called her MIL that vile name you would feel the pain and sickness that this person is dealing with. It is very sad because continuing to degrade others, to lift onesself up can turn into an addictive activity.

  3. Hi Andrew, first of all, thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to comment and really, if you are ever in the neighborhood, let me know !
    Secondly, like you have a dual background in IT and psychology, mine is in commercial economics and sociology, so i enjoy your views and broad interests very much.
    Then on the topic of your post;
    like you know, i am a member of the Daily Photo family with
    And like in any family, there are members i'd like to see more than others. Some i see/speak (all online ofcourse) on a daily basis and some hardly ever solely based on the interaction through their posts and comments.
    It's a very supportive family where i haven't had the experience that one of us is speaking badly about the other.
    On the other hand in the Netherlands we have also had teenagers (verbally) abusing or harassing each other through the net/msn whatever.

    I simply wish people would think before the pushed the publish button. More so because you never know the whole story btw than because i want people to behave nicely all the time.

    I've got to stop rambling on.
    My middle son wants me to haul him out of the tub.

  4. My experience has been that folks' personalities really do come through in their writing. The blogging community is a real community and people should follow the same rules of courtesy that they do in "real" life. People should be able to express their opinions without being rude or hurtful, or personally attacking someone.

    I watched that show on 20/20 as well, and it was very disturbing.

    I had an unfortunate experience "on line" where I had developed an surprisingly intimate relationship with someone. It came out of left field and was totally unexpected. It should not have happened. And I learned later that that was that person's habit in "real" life as well. I was ambushed. And it hurt my feelings as much in "cyber" life as it would have done in "real" life. I was devastated and it is taking me a long time to work through it.

    So, people should be careful what they say online. I believe our brains process the relationships exactly the same way as they do in "real" life.


  5. I've been lucky enough to have blog readers who are supportive and kind. But you're right that the anonimity of the internet tends to make people behave differently than they would in real life. One time someone took over my msn and used it to send rude comments (too rude to repeat) to all my friends. I could be wrong, but I'll bet in real life that person is some soft-spoken computer geek who never said a bad word to anyone.

  6. I got my first computer about six or seven years ago and my first venture into online comments was in a chat room for older people. They were great about answering tecnhical questions, so I was pleased with the strangers I called "online friends". Very soon, I began to see the forty or so people, who were regulars in that chat room, started to break into factions and become angry with each other. I couldn't believe humans would fight with their keyboards and say nasty things to faceless chatters. One lady became very ill and died. The "chat room" was distraught and held a virtual wake for her. Others started rumors about different people and some left the "room" in a huff". To this day, one older woman, who is confined to her home, and I are in touch with each other for playing online games. She is still hurt by the things people said via type in that "room". I think it is nuts to give strangers power over your life --- turn the machine off! I think we forget that this is the one area where we can walk away and nobody will know we are missing from the conversation.

  7. It's true that often people don't feel the need to treat strangers with respect online. It's easy to hurt someone online and not deal with any consequences, and there is less guilt in doing so when you don't need to see the other person's face.

    Dealing with the problem: While there could be more bullies online, it's also easier to ignore them online. They're probably not going to continue lambasting you if you just ignore them. If they're being completely unfair in a public forum or blog, you might just find you have a bunch of online friends (or just strangers) willing to take the time to type a few words and defend you. If someone slanders me online, it's in writing, so if they say something out of line or incorrect, people will notice.

    Many of the online bullies don't recognize the seriousness of what they say, or how much they can hurt another person. I bet if you confronted them in person on some of the matters, they'd say "Oh I didn't really mean it that way" or "It's not as big a deal to me as I made it seem" or the classic "It doesn't mean anything, it's just the Internet". They can be perfectly nice away from the keyboard.

    The fact is, whether it's online or face-to-face, bullies exist. However, we don't need to worry about what they do, we should just learn from their mistake and not become that way ourselves. It only takes a moment's dereliction to change from a bullyee to a bullyer.

  8. Public forum is a blessing, but does come with a downside. Walker, it's great that you are an open book, and will say something to someone's face as easily as you would to his/her blog, regardless of its negative/positive value. The Simon Cowells of the world are unpopular because they tell it like it is when someone asks their opinions. They sometimes get the unnecessary noise to stop, doing everyone a favor. When someone whines on her blog, ending the post with "What should I do?" she asks for it, and you answer. Because so few women at a party will stand up and say exactly what their whining friend NEEDS to hear, the internet is a great place to find people who will do her (and the rest of us) this service.

    But Walker, you are the exception, not the rule. I read plenty of blogs myself, and see more "Signed, anonymous" than I see "Signed, Walker" (and even fewer where the commenter includes a link to his/her blog, comfortably exposing THEIR OWN thoughts to the world). There are more people who enjoy unnecessary meanness and mudslinging for the fun of it...and cower when it comes time to reveal their own identities. Sure, there are the situations where somebody needs to speak up and say what we're all thinking to smack some sense into someone. But more often we see the situations where there's a hurting (or just venting) blogger who is making the right decisions/approaches, wants to let off some steam, and doesn't ask for advice or feedback necessarily. And sure enough, some troll comes and leaves something venomous and pointless on the blog just because s/he can. It's counterproductive and weak.

    Just because it's a troll's prerogative to talk-smack-and-run-away simply on account of the fact that blogs are public, does not mean that it's warranted. Fortunately, Blogspot (and probably other venues) provides a function for bloggers to require linked Blogger member signatures (banning anonymous trolls). If that's not enough, a blogger may also opt to authorize comments before publicly posting them on his/her blog. Some may call this censorship. I disagree. Censorship would be me preventing a blogger from saying things I don't like on HIS OWN blog. Besides, the comments submitted still make it to the blogger's eyes, even if it doesn't make it to the eyes of the rest of the world. If you need to say the painful truth to someone and they don't allow it to appear on their blog, they still read it. In those situations, your constructive objective has been met.

  9. In France, the biggest blogging platform among teenagers is Skyblog. No comment moderation possible (only deleting them- but anybody can post anonymously). I was reading the article you linked about mean teenagers, and it reminds me of something that happenned on a friend's blog. One girl kept putting terribly mean comments on every single post, and dissing her blog and her in comments on all the blogs she put as links, she never knew who it was but it was obviously someone from school. It got so bad that she ended up deleting her blog.

  10. Hi Andrew and thank you for your comment on my blog. The reason I and so many other mothers of adoption loss (some call us that awful word..."birth"mother) have our blogs is to educate and let other moms and their lost and re-found children know that they are not alone and that it's OK to be sad, mad and have our own opinions about adoption in general. We do get some hateful comments, but I go by the "it's my blog and I'll delete if I want to" rule. Mostly the nastiest comments are from adopters or wannabe adopters or anyone else who either benefits from adoption or wants to deny that there is anything valid in our negative feelings about the institution, itself. The point is, that there is always going to be someone who has to push a button and see if it gets a reaction, or who just has a lot of hostility and a lot of time to kill or, in the case of us Natural Moms with blogs, someone who is threatened by what we have to say. You can't escape it, but you can refuse to be drawn into a spitting contest with aggressive people. Life is entirely too short to spend it in written combat with strangers.

  11. Wow! This is a great blog! I admit that I have found myself in different forums occassionaly saying things that aren't so nice about other people. Of course after you hit the send button you can't take it back and I awlays wonder why in the world I did it. Thanks for the insight!

  12. You are right, people use blogs as an expression of self. And when someone comes on line, reads a blog, and then attacks the blogger I believe that is similar to a mugging! My grandson also fell victim to some high school on-line bullying. These kids can be talented techies and can really create havoc with other teen's online lives. He had to leave the internet for a while. It seems that some of us love the blog world because, for one reason, there is a certain amount of freedom to say things we normally wouldn't say in our real time circles with the hope we gather like souls to a community of communication. Others have the mentality that the blog is a place to insult others with immunity. Yuck!

  13. Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting on my situation. People that have responded to my blog directly have been very friendly and understanding. I know people go through things sometimes that other people just cannot seem to understand. But I know, I've been there and kinda still am in a situation where I really don't know what to do. People usually can tell other people what they would do, while in reality, If they were in the same situation they may do right the opposite of what they say. I know! I've been on both ends of things like this. No one has negatively commented on my blog so far. If they do they will difinitely get my opinion back.

  14. I agree with Diana - the internet gives us a chance to express ideas that we might normally feel inhibited to express. I once saw a very talented and giving blogger nearly shut down after a vicious attack from a regular visitor to his site - the fall-out was just ugly, and as a result, I found myself pulling away from a "bloger friendship" with one of the partires invloved because I just didnt want to be invloved with it. I wonder if the same atack and counter-attack would have taken place if we were sitting around a table at the coffee shop?

  15. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I know what you mean about people downing other people for things they really don't know all the details about. People have been very nice that have commented on my blog. I know the feeling of wanting to tell people how or what to do in their relationships or life. But If your not there or in that relationship, you have no way of knowing the whole situation. I do tell some of my friends what I think they should do. They also tell me what I should do. But we ask each others opinions. Not that we actually do them like we should. I know I shouldn't stay in a relationship that i'm not happy with. But, For now I'm quess i will. give it a little longer. I have been married 3 times. You would think I would learn my lesson after a couple of times. Wrong! Oh well, life goes on, we will see what happens. I don't know If it will last or not.

  16. In my opinion, Blogs are just another form of communication. People come onto their blogs for many different reasons and while "venting" is one of them, they need to be aware that ANYONE can come and read what they have written. So I feel there is SOME responsibility on the person writing the blog to keep their material ummmm... less than CRUDE. However... I have run across many many blogs where I have found material that I find EXTREMELY offensive. Now... I could write a nasty note in their comments letting them know how I feel -- but wouldn't that be akin to broadcasting a gripe with a teacher to the entire PTA? I think as "human beings" we have an obligation to treat each other with respect whether it in the office, the classroom, the grocerystore, or in BlogLand! If I have a PROBLEM with you (and I feel it's MY business to say so) then chances are I'm going to email you personally about it, and NOT broadcast it in your comments. But thus far, I have never run across a blog that offended me, that I also thought it WAS my business to say something about it ... and so I just leave without making ANY comment. I think it all boils down to "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

  17. I find it very diheartening to see and read other bloggers being crude or rude to others. Espeacilly when someone has just poured thier hearts out..(being it well written, what we may think as stupid or whathaveyou) for anohter person to rip them to shreds is very ignorant.

    I wont read blogs where people are being bashed. I dont read blogs to hear someone being critsized for feeling the way they do. Thats what a blog is for. Rather then leave nasty comments, just dont read it anymore. Its much easier and wastes much less time.


  18. Anonymous10:52 AM

    Hey Andrew,
    Great topic. Before I started my blog, I got into some negative commenting on a friend's blog with an 'anonymous' person, defending my friend, and then myself. The key, to me, is in being self-reflective. Why did I need to defend myself, or my friend to this person? I decided that not everyone is going to like me, and I don't need to defend my position. Everyone has the right to view things as they will. Commenting on his negative comments was just empowering him negatively, so I stopped commenting on those particular ones. Then I decided to start my own blog. I speak my mind, but not with the intention of hurting others. It's called R's Musings, and the subtitle is: Take what is helpful and leave the rest. I like to ponder ideas and perception and write in such a way to facilitate the questioning of what most of us take for granted, with the hope that the reader will question things right along with me. I have ranted a few times, but I follow it up with an explanation of why I felt the way I felt, so that others can see my thought process and that my intention is not to just blame others for my negative feelings, but to get to what's really going on behind them. I think it's very important to BE the example of what you're trying to promote. So, I promote self-reflection through my own self-reflection. This 'anonymous' person now comments on my blog, and I find his comments becoming more and more thoughtful as I address ONLY his thoughtful comments. Something I learned in the STEP parenting program... ignore the bad behavior, and reward the good. It doesn't just work with children, folks. I've gotten mostly supportive, thoughtful commments, but if need be, allows the blogger full control, post with or without comments, delete specific comments, or allow or don't allow anonymous comments. Some people do like to offend, just for the reaction. It gives them a sense of importantance when we react. So the best thing, to me, is to learn how NOT to be offended by someone else's opinion. I can't control what anyone else thinks, but I DO have control over what I think, say and do. --Robin

  19. Dear Andrew...I am glad you have addressed this issue. While everyone on my site plays nice while they are on my site, I have had a few inklings of problems off site, and have lost several readers because of online fighting. I stay away from this issue because I don't want to get involved, and after all, my site is called "Here's to Happy Women." Another reason I stay away from it is that my site is also my portfolio...I have professionals reviewing my work on a regular basis. Having said that, I commend you for addressing something that I have not addressed directly - although I have a bit between the lines.

    Thank you.

  20. HI Andrew,

    The problem with blogging is that often the written word is taken out of context. There are no voice inflexion that goes hand in hand with dialogue, so it is very difficult to read the emotion.

    My personal opinion is that if you want to blog, for whatever reason, you have to be open for criticism. As a mature person you also need to realise that there will be differing opinions between readers and as a consequence the comments will reflect this.

    As a blogger you need to be open minded as to opinions and perceptions. No one opinion is right or wrong. It is all a matter of our own personal perception, which comes about because of individual morals and values.

    However, in saying this, there is no reason to be down right rude and nasty in blogland. At the end of the day we all need to remember that the majority of our readers live across the other side of the planet and we are never likely to meet them in real life. It does not give us the right to be nasty and offensive to people that we do not know.

    The other thing is if we do not agree with what is written we all have the right to hit the 'Next Blog' button!

    Thanks for your support on my blog Andrew.

  21. I think teens are fooled into thinking of thatspace is safe and that they aren't responsible for their actions. The idea of prank calling, only modernized and with an audience.

    Blogging helps me sometimes be more honest and perhaps opinions can be voiced more articulately ? but i refrain from bashing people that read the blog..or have a secret blog to read and write when i want to beef about personal stuff.

    I think hurtful things are said when people don't realize how many people see their blogs. Andrew I'm always surprised that you comment on mine sometimes...mainly cause mine is more of a scrapbook for my folks to see my kid and I never see mine as the same league as this, so my feelings of anonymity are forgotton.

    I agree though, there are alot of blogs that you can skip. I respect their rights to free speech however.

  22. I first heard about blogging on the Internet 6 months ago from a friend. She was talking about her blog and finally I interrupted and said, “What’s a blog?” After she was through laughing at me, she explained that it was like a personal journal that people kept on-line. You have to choice to either make it public or not public. Well I’ve been journaling for years on my computer and I thought, “Awesome!”

    Initially I thought I could use my blog to clear out the fogginess of my mixed up brain. Then I started adding pictures of my life for my family who lives far away to enjoy. And now I’ve discovered other people’s blogs and all of the amazing topics that I didn’t even know that people were discussing. Now my blog is not only a place to clear out my fogginess, but a way to test out different ideas that I have, different theories about life, and a mode for discussion for controversial subjects.

    The one thing that I’ve learned the most from blogging so far is that not everyone agrees with my opinions or me. But that’s O.K. It’s good for people to have disagreements and separate opinions. For how are we all to grow as people with out a little controversy? After all, isn’t it the controversy that teaches us what we need to survive in this world?

    As for the woman who had her feelings hurt on-line. I feel bad for her. But I also believe that she has probably learned an invaluable lesson. If you are going to put yourself out there for everyone to see, you have to be prepared that not every is going to like what he or she sees. And…you have to be confident enough to take the good with the bad. And if you’re not that confident, then perhaps you need not let it all hang out on the world wide internet.

    One more comment…
    Perhaps a group of women face to face would not comment to a woman directly if they thought she were acting the fool. But I guarantee, they’d all have lunch the next week without her and have a grand discussion about her mistakes. This discussion may be vindictive or not (depending on the quality of women you’ve chosen to surround yourself by), but there would always be a discussion.

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  25. A cliche': "Truth hurts."

    Another cliche': "If you don't have something nice to say don't say it at all."

    Regardless of internet anonymity and the lack of a face to face confrontation there is a fine line that isn't so clear or discernible between these two statements. In fact it doesn't really matter if it's online, on the phone or in person - this sort of situation appears in many circumstances.

    So many circumstances that it is unfair to discern if the comment is considered rude or truth. It is up to the receiver of the criticism to either take it constructively or offensively. Confrontation isn't always a bad thing - it can have positive results in the long run.

    I have no idea if this person is or is not a "dimwit". I've been called such on occasion and truth have it, I can be a dimwit at times. I can be wrong. I can be in denial. I can be a total ass. Yet there are times when I know for sure that the commenter has no clue whatsoever and I instead choose to not let it bother me.

    Which leads me to cliche' number three: "I thinketh thou protest too much."

    Ultimately, conviction is not by a judge nor jury - it is within our selves where the truth is known and can be found.

  26. Personally I don't intend to offend anyone and don't think I would purposefully say something unkind on my own blog. That said, it is my journal! Granted it is online and open for viewing and commenting...but ultimately these are my thoughts, feelings, words, unedited and often times misunderstood. If I find something particularly disturbing I 'click away'.

    What I find even more disturbing is the openly hostile comments that some do in the name of spiritual growth or worse yet...evangelism! Truly disturbing!

  27. Interesting post & discussion. I've talked about this before on my own blog; I am a member of an online religious community (loosely affliated based on faith, to make myself clear), and it is one of the basic tenets of my religion that treating other people with respect and giving them their inherent dignity as human beings is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately -- and obviously, of course, for we are all only human -- this isn't always the case.

    I got similar comments to my own blog post, i.e., that one puts one's self "out there" and that one should simply accept the consequences. While I'll agree that's true to a degree, I disagree that there shouldn't be a type of societal expectation that we will all behave and "play nice", as it were. Yes, a crazy idea in this online age (so I've been rather heatedly informed), but even this new culture will need its rules and taboos if it's going to survive. Speaking the truth and being honest is important, but what's the delivery method? It's possible to speak plain without causing additional & unnecessary hurt. If you have something to say about me or about what I've written, say it TO me. That's what the comment section is for, after all. My email address is in the sidebar -- it's not hard to communicate with me. I've had the extremely painful experience of finding my words dissected on a very popular blog; I was given no warning and the writer had the chance and ability to say it to me directly but she chose not to do so. Her perfect right to do as she wishes, yet I submit that we mustn't forget the rights that other people hold over us...namely, as I've mentioned before, the right to be treated with dignity and respect -- no matter what we think of someone else.

    Yet, for all of my pontificating: mean, nasty behavior online is relatively rare when you consider the vast numbers of people who are connected these days. Most people seem naturally inclined to treat other people with kindness, and we are all becoming quite sophisticated at this new game, understanding that it's not always possible to correctly read the tone the writer intended. I've had trolls -- who hasn't? I've deleted the comments as they've come along, with the motto "do not feed the trolls", but my comments are not moderated and for a few minutes, or hours, that comment remains up for others to read. It's a system that's worked for me so far, and I hope that remains the case (I am also reticent to overly advertise my blog as I don't want to actually invite trolls to come visit).

    Perhaps it's not entirely out of the question to start offering classes in school -- alongside math, and typing, and what-have-you -- teaching children and teenagers what's good and, especially, what's bad or even dangerous about the Internet. We talk about kids going online with no idea of what type of monsters prowl in the shadows; we can begin to remedy this problem but we have to first accept that the Internet is a new and permanent addition to the human experience. Children -- and some adults, I'm afraid -- need to be taught that empathy, or at least the *show* of empathy, is as important in the virtual world as it is in the real world. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" that not the Golden Rule? You don't have to subscribe to the Christian tradition to see the wisdom of those words, or to apply it to your own interactions with others.

  28. such sadists and cowards exist everywhere.they are best ignored.