I ADORE the internet. I say this with absolutely no sarcasm or malice in my heart. It has afforded so many opportunities, has created a wealth of knowledge, and gives the human race a way to be connected like never before. Entire political movements affecting change have been launched, new business opportunities have arisen, life-long friendships have been formed… to name a few.
And with all of that good I long ago accepted that there are some bad things that come a long with it. That is life.
Lately the trend of a culture of hatefulness online has seemed to reach a fever pitch. Everywhere you look on social media you see someone being hateful to another human being. You don’t even have to look for it anymore. Just simply open any social media platform, or read an article on ANY topic. And I mean ANY topic. One of these days I am going to follow through with my plan to write an article simply titled “The Sky is Blue”, wait for the disagreement to take hold, and count how many minutes it takes for someone to call me a name that should probably make me blush.
Folks taking pictures of strangers who are not dressed to their standards, then plastering them all over the internet because then, maybe, that person will have more respect in the future. People commenting about the hairstyle of a political candidate, like somehow that will affect their ability to lead. Groups that perpetuate negative stereotypes about any group of individuals all the name of fun, because clearly that is the only way to combat negative qualities. Ridiculing anyone in the public eye for losing 20 pounds, gaining 20 pounds, or simply wearing an outfit that isn’t flattering, because that is how you encourage healthy eating. Individuals who don’t agree with an opinion piece calling the very character of a blogger into question and harassing them mercilessly so that other bloggers will think twice about sharing their viewpoint.
I could spend the rest of my morning compiling this list, but you get the point.
Why is this happening? We could probably spend the next ten years discussing the psychology of this issue. We could talk about how the anonymity of the internet emboldens many people to say things they might never voice in public. We could discuss the gang mentality and what happens when large groups of people engage in hateful behavior. We could analyze a million different things about our culture that perpetuate this disturbing trend.
But in this case, I am not sure that the “why” really matters anymore. There are many of us who are really tired of the trend and are no longer just willing to accept it as part of the price we pay to have this incredible tool called “The Internet” at our disposal.
It’s not just about how the behavior is affecting individuals or even groups that are being targeted. For me, it speaks to a much larger problem: We are losing basic empathy for other human beings when we engage and accept this behavior. As a society I don’t think that is a healthy thing. For our children, I know that isn’t a healthy thing.
I have a 13 year old daughter who is an amazing kid. Recently we were talking about bullying at school and she said something that hit me like a ton of bricks:
“You can’t say you are against bullying, and then just stand by and do nothing when you see it happening.”
She is right. In the past I have just scrolled past ugliness and thought “Well, that is just the way it is.” I have seen friends post memes that tease another person, or share a post from a page putting someone on blast. I have allowed posts that cross the line on my page or on my website because I didn’t want to censor anyone. I have even probably laughed at hateful posts or may have even shared them myself in the past. You know, all in the name of good fun.
But it’s not just good fun anymore. It has gotten out of hand. And I think we have the ability and power as a society to stop it. Or at least bring it down a notch.
There is growing trend among middle and high school aged kids: They are changing the definition of the “in crowd” or the “popular kids” in their social circles. There is power in numbers and these kids are bravely speaking up about bullying and re-inventing “cool” to mean people who are more accepting of others and don’t engage in nasty behavior. They are saying, “That isn’t cool. Come join the popular kids… be kind to one another.” I see it with teenagers I know and with my daughter and her circle of friends every day.
Then we, as adults, engage in horrible behavior online. Anyone else think that is just a little bit backwards?
It is time to bring a little civility back to the internet. But how? It’s too far gone, right? We can’t make other people change, you say. It is the way it is and we should just accept it.
No. I don’t believe that. It didn’t always use to be this way. There was a time when we didn’t treat one another this way. Where we didn’t engage in these behaviors. What if we decided to start making it “uncool” to behave this way online? If when we saw it we told folks that we could no longer be associated with their bad behavior? If we all agreed to stop liking pages that made fun of other people? If we all agreed to have civil debate that didn’t cross over to YELLING AT ONE ANOTHER or name-calling?
How about we re-invent the “in crowd” and make acting like adolescents (who seem to be doing a better job these days) the new popular trend.
Call me naive, say that I am asking for the impossible… it’s okay. I can handle it. But I think it is time for us to all bring it back to a time when we treated each other with more respect. I am committed to a #BeKindRewind movement. #InternetCivilityIsNotDead… it is no longer acceptable for us just to stand around, say we are against it, and then do nothing to stop it when it right in front of our face.
Who is with me?