25 Tips For Speaking To Other Humans On The Internet

The Internet can sometimes be a kooky place.

Let’s go over a few ground rules on how best to address one another. These are things I know I most certainly need to work on. And I know these are themselves complicated ideas that may not always seem to agree with one another. This list is neither absolute nor exhaustive. It is meant to be a thinking point. A starting place for renewed conversation.

Here goes.

1) Honesty and empathy go well together. You can be honest and forthright as long as you attempt to try to understand the point-of-view of other people.

2) Anger and outrage are not without value, but understand that anger comported without focus and with only rage is not as useful as you’d think. Anger and outrage are good when they’re trying to accomplish a goal, but not so good when it’s just anger for the sake of anger. Piss and vinegar splashed in someone’s eyes won’t get much done. Cold and calculated response is far better than a lava gusher of grr-arrgh-gnashy-teethy. Snark and insult only reduce the effectiveness.

3) When you are met with anger and outrage, do not meet it with anger and outrage in return. Assume that the angry person is angry for a reason. Try to understand it. Approach it with, again, honesty and empathy. Someone saying to you: I’M ANGRY is not going to get less angry when you say GO FUCK YOURSELF. Either attempt to understand their concerns, or just cut bait and run. Do not pour whisk(e)y on the campfire in part because you’re wasting precious whisk(e)y.

4) Think before you tweet. Or post to Facebook. Or post a blog. Ask yourself: “Is this demonstrating the best version of myself? Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

5) Consider sitting on your anger for an hour. Or, as Teresa Frohock suggests, 24 hours.

6) Do not silence, diminish, or dismiss another person.

7) Don’t shut down the conversation. Have the conversation.

8) Have a discussion, not an argument. If you must argue, don’t let it become a fight.

9) Insults and accusations are ugly business. Accusations in particular carry scary weight. Far better to attack ideas than to turn around and attack the people you think represent those ideas.

10) People are shitty on the Internet, sometimes. Do not engage. Or, if you must: kill them with kindness. I like to tune out poisonous voices. I will use the ‘block’ button when necessary.

11) Online lynch mobs are a real thing. But be careful not to assume that “lynch mob” is synonymous with “people who disagree with me.” It is also not synonymous with “people airing concerns.” There’s no metric for when something is a real lynch mob and when it isn’t, but understand that labeling it as such has the potential to diminish and dismiss people’s concerns. (One supposes that a good way to identify a lynch mob is when it’s full of actual vitriol and insult rather than full of people being honest about their anger and their worry.)

12) Just because you don’t agree with someone’s concerns doesn’t invalidate them.

13) Nobody likes being told, “you’re wrong.” Even if you think they are.

14) You can always walk away from a conversation. Politely disengage.

15) Respect people’s right to disengage.

16) Understand that things you say may be taken out of context or read differently than you intended. This may be the fault of the reader. This may be your fault. This may be due to some cultural divide of which you are unaware. Research. Investigate.

17) Having big, large, complicated discussions on social media is not impossible, but it’s hard (particularly on Twitter, where the 140-character limit is excellent for brevity but less awesome in terms of conveying tone, nuance, complication).

18) Try to spend time sharing happy things. Pictures of very small ponies, for instance. Or dogs driving cars. Or babies dressed up like superheroes. Spend some time engaging positively. Be a fountain, not a drain.

19) People are allowed to like things you don’t. And people are allowed to dislike things you love. Respect the subjectivity of preference and opinion. The other day I was drinking beer and B-Dub, the Toddler Inquisitor of the house, asked what I was drinking and I told him. He said, “Yuck,” because he thinks beer is gross. (Er, not that we let him drink beer — but I do let him smell it and he found it ugh-worthy.) His response, and this is a response nearly all of the Internet should learn, was: “I don’t like yuck. But you like yuck, Daddy — that’s okay!”

20) Sometimes, interacting on the Internet can cause a kind of “Social PTSD.” Things feel faster, and negative stuff hits quicker and in greater number. This can be an anxious place. the Internet can be a watercooler for fun chatter, but it can also be a watercooler filled with urine surrounded by bitey goblins. Understand this both in terms of how it might affect you and how it might already be affecting other people. “Outrage fatigue” is also a real thing, which can mean being tired of all the outrage going on, or mean being tired of feeling angry all the time. Again: respect someone’s right not to join in your outrage even if you think they are or should be an ally. Sometimes we just have to tweet animated GIFs at each other to feel normal for a while.

21) Social media can sometimes feel like various wars going on across multiple fronts. Again: empathy is necessary to try to understand the other “side” — the truth (“truth?”) of things is usually somewhere in the middle, in a place of compromise where even if people don’t agree, they at least attempt to understand one another. This can make it feel less like a war and more like a meeting. And while I am not fond of meetings, it’s a whole lot better to have one of those then a shooting match from within our muddy trenches.

22) Realize that some people are used to being dismissed and diminished. This is, in part, that PTSD I’m talking about. Again, empathy has value in trying to understand the source. Is there a legitimate concern? What else is going on? Open the door instead of building a wall. Seek truth and wisdom and find compassion — compassion is perhaps most important when it is hardest to find.

23) Those who live in hair houses should not fling lit matches.

24) To quote Kameron Hurley:

KameronHurley
Words matter. And it sucks to make words on the internet that can be misinterpreted, but we’re responsible for them, for better or worse.
3/5/14, 10:53 AM

25) In the gospel of Pope Wheaton,above all else cleave to the precept: “Don’t be a dick.” Or, if you’d prefer to sing from the hymnal of Hierophant Vonnegut: ”

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: ‘Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.'”

Amen.