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