I have a “no personal attacks” rule that I try to stick to on the Internet and it fucking sucks. I think this actually might be why I curse so much right now. You see, long ago I used to be one of those “tell it like it is” people. Way back when, on *MySpace, I even documented this inability to argue without attacking, in my blog. This incarnation of me would bust in guns blazing, on all manner of occasions. It was too much, it was superficial and it was annoying. Sure, it was kind of funny, but almost always at someone else’s expense.
It didn’t really matter that I was insulting people in the news or that I knew in real life, either. I just wrote the first thoughts that came into my mind when reacting to something I’d read or experienced. Granted, I’d take the time to write the stories out the best I could. I worked to make them read well, make sense, and provoke reactions. All I wanted to do was make people laugh, so I figured no harm, no foul.
Welp, I was wrong. I realize now that what I was doing was feeding into the troll mentality. When you add your voice to the ether and you give it a troll’s intonation, you’re broadcasting that it’s OK to be somewhat verbally abusive. Being mean is acceptable, so long as there’s a punch line or a point. That's not to say that I’m clutching pearls over here. I realize that in comedy, people make fun of things all the time. I get it; that’s comedy, that’s comedy writing. Comments on the Internet, however, are not the same goddamn thing.
I used to work in an open office. What that means is that there are no walls separating employees. No one has a real office and there are no doors. We were to see one another as equals, not rungs on some metaphorical ladder. Even the conference rooms were made of glass. Transparency was for everyone in this office and it was horrifying. It took a while, but eventually I got over the fact that everyone could hear and see me at all times. Looking back, I’m unsure as to why I was so uncomfortable with this setting. After all, I’m an Internet nerd. This is where I live, and here, you’re always being watched, especially when you make comments on posts.
Back at this open-office gig, my colleagues and I would take great delight in peering awkwardly into conference rooms. We liked to do this whenever we caught our friends looking up from an infinitely boring meeting that was running predictably long. If we could get them to laugh quietly to themselves, we’d consider it a win. If they LOL-ed we’d scurry away, so we wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire of disapproving glances of objection, shot amongst the Big Dogs in the room.
Similarly, we’re all watching when your comment appears beneath a news article or some media outlet’s Facebook post. Most people won’t care about what you’re saying, some will agree, and lots will be combative. Think of comments more like conversations you’re having with other human beings in conference rooms with glass walls, because that’s essentially what they are.
The best part about working in an office with transparent conference rooms? Whenever two people would take their heated conversations into one of those spaces and proceed to have it out. Granted, this was an important office and these were all important people--not me, everyone else--so they almost always maintained decorum. Those of us on the outside, though, we all knew how to read the reactions. Every eye roll, shrug, and darting glance registered. We could plainly see when things were spinning out of control. Watching those "meetings" crash & burn was an office perk on the level of the free catered food. In addition to free office food, everyone likes a good soap opera, even fancy people in fancy clothes, doing fancy business.
What I’m getting at is that your comment wars are the soap operas of the Internet, guys. Everyone’s watching. Do you really want to be the irrational asshole that can’t get their argument straight and who devolved into a pile of personal attacks within the first two exchanges?
No one wants to be the raving lunatic because no one listens to crazy. Sure, you can verbally spar with some nimrod that’s either baiting you into it or completely oblivious, but where's the point in that? After it’s over, all you’ll have left is a record of how easily you can lose your cool, available online. It'll be there forever unless you delete it, but that would just make you a coward. So you see, you’re screwed either way.
This is not to say that posting jerk remarks will be easy to avoid. Spewing personal attacks at complete strangers is easy, especially when they don’t agree with what you’re trying to get across. As a matter of fact, nothing feels simpler when you’re sitting safely behind a keyboard and glowing screen. It can also be fun, I know. It’s exciting to fling out a burn at some asshole that’s just attempted to shut you down. Sometimes, it can even feel downright exhilarating to shut somebody up in no uncertain terms, but save your energy instead.
What good is it to shut the bad guy down if you become the asshole in the process? What are you, Donald Trump? You don’t wanna be Trump. I don’t even think Trump wants to be Trump. Sure the money must be nice, but let's be real for a minute here; no one gets that bitter by living a happy and fulfilling life.
Besides, insults are the easy way out. They’re the smoke bombs of the Internet. You fling a little mud, you distract from the conversation, and you’re out. It doesn’t matter what you were saying prior to that moment. Your views could have been valid or thought provoking, but you've just nullified all of that with a personal attack. You are now the troll and you know what they say about trolls: Online Trolls are literally losers according to study – wmur.com
Ultimately, you’re going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and they’re either going to ruin your day, or you’re going to regret something you've said. Trust me. You will go entirely too far one day and the world will be just outside your glass conference room, watching as you crash and burn. Hell, I’ll probably be in the stands. Don't worry. I’ll let out a loud “woooooooooooo,” so you know it’s me.
I’m going to be honest with you. When someone shoots you down, it’s going to hurt. The takedown wont feel good, but the burns will heal. Contrastingly, when you’ve said something you regret, it sticks around much longer. It can ruin friendships and even jobs and you won’t even have made your point because, as I said earlier, no one listens to crazy.
If your objective online is just to harass people, you’re a miserable dick, plain and simple. (That’s not trolling, that’s just me being my usual abrasive and direct self.) Alternatively, if your objective is to actually connect with people, discuss issues, and gain perspective, then you might want to consider laying off the insults.
It bears mentioning that while it’s true that we should never feed the trolls, there’s nothing wrong with refuting their nonsense before exiting the show. No, there will be no winning, but someone will come along after you’ve gone, they’ll read your response, and they’ll know to ignore that idiot too. If someone disrespects you, address it if necessary, but tread ever so deftly. The battle for the Internet rages in every comment section, every day and we all become warriors the moment we toss our words into the ring. And Finally, here's my plea: Get on the good side and help us crush the bitter net of the 90s because if Skynet doesn’t get us, the asshole trolls will.
*Oh hell yes! Call me old like you think it’s gonna matter. I’ve survived enough close calls to appreciate being given time. Perspective, bitches.
**No, the irony of using a Mel Gibson clip in a post about not being a dick to people, is not lost on me.