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.

78 comments

  • As I was reading this list, I thought it should and does boil down to Wheaton’s Law (#25). And it does.

    “Don’t be a dick. Everything else is commentary”

    • Agreed, but *necessary* commentary, if only because many among us don’t understand *when* they are being dicks, or what constitutes dickish behavior. This is the ugly, messy, inconsistent but necessary process of socializing our peers.

  • A lot of problems would be averted if everyone adhered to this. I fear that not everyone brings the same amount of good intention and good will to the party, but that is no excuse for abandoning one’s own principles and standards.

  • Generally good stuff. There’s problematic racial undertones to “lynch mob” (similarly with “witch hunt”) and I wish we had better words for when a thing happens on the internet where a bunch of people gather with the express intent of causing harm to another. Perhaps the key is learning to recognize when you are part of such a mob and examining if causing harm is, indeed, your intention.

      • Well sure, but all kinds of wince-inducing phrases are part of the parlance. Like “friendzone”. Doesn’t mean we’re stuck using them.

        I agree with Gareth that ‘pile-on’ is the right term. Firstly, it’s just more accurate: even if the initial reaction was correct, a whole bunch of people are just, well, piling on, adding superfluous weight and damage to no needful end other than their own interest in adding to the crushing pile.

        Also because “lynch mob” has all of the problematic undertones. Lynch mobs are groups of angry people violently murdering someone who is innocent, or whose alleged crimes are very slight, in violation of all notions of decency or justice – and in the US, the history of those mobs is that of the white majority terrorizing black citizens for being ‘uppity’. If I say ‘wow, Wending was the victim of an Internet lynch mob,’ what I’m really saying is that people saying mean things on Twitter is the moral and metaphoric equivalent of a racist mob dragging an innocent person out of his home and murdering him because they thought he might have whistled at a white woman. With an emphasis on ‘this person is innocent’ and ‘your criticism of him is like you were a band of racist murderers’.

        TL;DR: words matter, and it’s important not to let butthurt jerks abuse them.

    • I’m of the opinion that “lynch mob” is a perfectly adequate metaphor — but I recognize that it’s inflammatory, so I’ve made an effort recently to replace it with “pile-on”, which carries the same image of mass, unthinking action, without the racial undertones.

  • This is, of course, built into many of the twenty-five theses here, but I’d give especial notice that it’s not really productive, fair, or (generally) accurate to make assumptions about someone else’s motivations, skills, or talents based on their age. (Or any other biographical datum, of course, but it just seems like I’ve seen a lot of ageism lately.)

  • Empathy can be learned, I agree.

    Actually, Chuck, the vitriol you mention has kept me from speaking from my own public platform for years. This past weekend, I made myself visible on my own website. I intend to express opinions at times about controversial things that I care about (without wasting whiskey) and am a bit nervous about how they will be received. But I, too, have a “Block” button.

    I stay away from reading comments on various news sites that get really nasty. I believe in being authentic, not hiding behind a fake identity when making a comment. Anonymity breeds nastiness. And I agree that we are responsible for the ambiguity in our own writing.

    • I hope this goes well for you. What I have found, personally, is that the nasty commentary tend to come from a vocal minority. Making liberal use of the ‘block’ feature has done me a lot of good. I don’t inject a lot of negativity into my own life, and I don’t care to have anyone else do it for me. I do appreciate reading or listening to various viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not (I can’t imagine seeking out only those views that validate my own), but only when the person expressing the views will treat me with the same respect I will show them.

      I found, initially, that people who wanted to write nasty comments were engaging my posts, but it wasn’t long before a combination of blocking and refusing to engage in return led to what has been a very nice community of people for me. I hope you find the same to be true.

  • I am totally suffering from Outrage Fatigue / Social PTSD. At some point in the last year, all the voices and their opinions just degenerated into a cacophony of meaningless, red noise. I’m still very much a Twitter denizen, but my Facebook presence has dwindled to comparative nothingness. AND I FEEL BETTER. It’s saying something when the silliness and catpixness of strangers on Twitter feels like a haven compared to the burdensome and tiresome opinion posts of Facebook “friends.” 😛

    ANYWAY… Herr Wendig, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve stated and advised here. For me, it’s all summed up in: “Treat others the way you want them to treat you.” Also, “Brighten the corner where you are, and you will light the world.” It’s good to remember that our internet corners work that way, too.

    • Feeling better is good, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly, if we all felt a little better maybe that PTSD vibe wouldn’t be there in the first place. Or at least would fade!

      • Agreed. I get the feeling that internet outrage carries with it a particular habit of holding onto the outrage for much longer than would be considered “normal” in real life. Or maybe you finally get to a place where you have peace about something, and suddenly a latecomer (or just someone wanting to stir things up) comes along and starts the whole conversation/discussion/argument all over again. It’s easy to get sucked back in and lose whatever fragile hold one had on that hard-won peace.

    • I think this is generally true, and it’s vital to realize that anger can be very valid.

      The only problem is, anger doesn’t often really solve a lot of problems and even when it does, it generates a lot more anger as a result.

      Anger is a tool in the way that a flamethrower is a tool. It MIGHT work, but it’s hard to say how much you’ll burn down in the process.

      That’s not to say “nice” is the only way forward, either — therein lies that false dichotomy. I think harnessing anger but making it clean, clear, crystalline — turn your rage into reason. That’s how things get done in a way that isn’t an act of burning down the house to kill a rat.

      IMHO YMMV etc.

      — c.

      • As a former tone police officer, I’m still working through this myself. I think the key is what you noted in #3, #6 and #7. If someone is angry, consider why they may be reacting that way. Examine your own privilege and how that may be informing your reaction. Don’t diminish their argument by admonishing their tone. If you’re worried that people might not be listening because of their tone, take up their banner and carry it however you think is appropriate, without any kind of judgmental back-talk like “what they mean to say is” or “I know so-and-so is being all ragey, so listen to ME instead.” You can harness anger without belittling it, whether it’s your anger or someone else’s.

        • Policing someone’s tone is never going to make them feel better. Even if it’s what you want to do. Sometimes I understand and have complained about tone — because honestly sometimes I’m a lot less willing to engage with someone based on how they’re speaking to me. But it’s uneven ground all around.

          • Tone policing definitely isn’t about making people feel better; it’s about controlling discourse. It’s about taking the angry people and putting a wall around them with a sign that says “angry people” and then ignoring them and encouraging others to do the same, regardless of why they’re angry or what points they’re making. Or telling them they can come out and chat when they’re willing to use a tone deemed appropriate.

            Again, I’m not sure of the ideal approach. I get “outrage fatigue” as much as the next guy. My mom was a screamer and I still tend to react by retreating or attempting to soothe. Without a doubt, though, telling an angry person to calm down is the opposite of the correct response.

  • Ugh, Wheaton’s Law only applies to other white males. He’s very dismissive of women of color( eg the “spirit animal” Tumblr thing a few weeks ago), as is most of the internet. Also they get the most vitriol from trolls. And next is feminists and women in general. What happened to Feminist Frequency (reddit fueled “I’m going beat and rape” you mobs) should never happen to anyone.

    • What was the “spirit animal” thing? I don’t know Wheaton personally but have found him generally pleasant and wise. How does this tie into the FemFreq stuff, if you don’t mind explaining.

      • I don’t want to link but if you google it’s the first thing that comes up. I just get tired of men telling women “fuck you” or some form of that. It’s happened to me and it just continues to happen. There should be some postulate added to Wheaton’s law that it’s very hard for white men in power to not be dicks. Feminist Frequency line was not related to the first directly. Thanks for responding. 🙂

  • Wise words, Chuck. I hope it’s not because of some nastiness you’ve been hit with in recent days that we don’t know about – you’ve had more than enough of that just lately as it is.

    I can’t help wondering if all the trolling, be-atching and namecalling would be quite so prevalent if everyone who left a comment was required to do so under their real name rather than some wacky avatar moniker. It might at least make people stop and think before they ‘went off on one’ (as we say in Britland.) And a lot of the trolls clearly know that what they’re saying would make their mums cross with them – if I had a quid for every nasty comment I’ve seen that’s attributed to an “asdf{insert random number sequence}”…

    There’s over seven billion of us here now. And we’ve all gotta share this wee ball of rock together. We need to play nicely.

    • That’s what I’ve always believed. If people on the internet had to own what they say in the same way they’d have to in public, face-to-face with someone…well things would be much different. Some people just don’t seem to think manners apply to the internet. Or while driving. And I don’t think it’s simply because of the anonymity. I think it’s because they’re not sharing physical space with their rival. Tell someone to fuck off at Starbucks and you could be punched. On the internet that threat isn’t there.

  • Since removing myself from the fray, and no longer reading the comment sections on political/opinion websites, I have A) Stopped being so angry. And B) spent much more time writing my book. If you’re writing ten thousand words of personal indignation a day, then you’re more than likely not writing anything else. I still do an occasional perusal, or even drop a line here and there, but I am done with the giant time suck.

    I am an asshole when I am angry. My co-workers would probably say that anger has nothing to with it, but no need to go into that here. Anyways, I am an angry asshole that can spend three hours writing a five thousand word response into a space with a 250 word max. Then, like a bookish, female, modern blue stocking version of the Incredible Hulk, I’d spend three hours editing my bit of online d-baggery into a weapon meant to pierce my opponent’s cancerous heart.

    My 2014 New Year’s resolution is that I will no longer engage in opinion wars via online comment sections. I can write a comment, but it has to be useful to the discourse. I limit myself to one or two comments a day to avoid the time suck. The result has been that A) My blood pressure is lower, B) I have no idea what’s happening in the world, which would seem bad on the surface, but now, I am not a know it all, that is also a verbally combative, contrarian, debate machine online, or irl. C) I finally had time to catch up on the Doctor Who series (Why is the Amelia Pond season so sad?) And D) I’ve completed my world building, and put down two chapters (that may seem like shit, but I’ve written my whole life, but wasted the physical output of words on argumentative nonsense.)

    This is me adding to the discourse in a positive manner. You can do it too. Every time you write “Eat a dick”, delete the words and replace it with, “I disagree and this is why…, but I see your point.” The internet just became a better place.

  • I always enjoy getting your emails in my inbox, Chuck. It blows my mind that adults need instructions like this, although some surely do. But those capable of maturity are mature, or strive for it, and those who aren’t mature, aren’t, and probably never will be.

  • “I can’t help wondering if all the trolling, be-atching and namecalling would be quite so prevalent if everyone who left a comment was required to do so under their real name rather than some wacky avatar moniker.”

    I find it interesting that people say this, because requiring FB login on a lot of commentary sites has not done much to lessen the vitriol as far as I’ve seen. Frankly, I’ve had my “wacky moniker” or variations on it for over 15 years, and it *is* my identity — I regard it as a very real identity for me. At the very least it provides a space where my asinine relatives can’t find and troll me and I can be more of myself. No, not everyone embraces their moniker like that, but the “you have to use your real name” ignores all kinds of issues with stalking and real-world harassment. As a woman, there’s a lot I’d be afraid to say if I had to use my real name in every instance and the haters had one less step to go to make my offline life miserable too.

    • I have a ‘wacky moniker’ too, which I use on sites where trolling and flaming is par for the course, so I’m with you on that. I was thinking more of the ones with nicknames that are deliberately confrontational or even downright offensive; racist, sexist, homophobic and stuff. If there was some sort of task force thingy that could at least keep a cautious eye on them it might be a start. But you’re right, the potential for stalking and abuse with a real name is just as massive – and forcing the issue would probably make the innocent more vulnerable than the bullies. Bad idea, on reflection. I don’t know what the solution is, other than passing around big helpings of the “Do as you would be done by” message.

  • Ugh. It’s made me feel so negative. Outrage burnout. Opinion burnout. Non-information barfing at full-fucking-blast burnout. Platform entitlement. Assmouthery. Buttholism.

    I arrive at points of fatigue and impatience that I just cannot listen to what another human being has to say. And my response is to be dismissive, to wield disdain like a claymore. To get people to stop making noise at all costs.

    It even feels righteous! I’m making the internet better!

    Only I’m not. Because shitting on people has never improved the situation anywhere but on a German porn set.

    Thanks for tying the cause and effect together. I’ve gotten better over the years, but when I get sick of everybody’s shit, it’s time to get out of the shizer film. Instead of flipping my wig, I’m going to practice going and finding SOMETHING that I do like and showing that to people instead.

  • First and foremost, I am guilty of all of the above more than once. I also try to do better. A couple of corollaries:

    a) If you truly want to fight (and this is mostly political,) there’s an app for that and you don’t need to drag it across your feed and involve everyone. I learned that one the hard way and try to avoid it. It took time to make the needed amends. If I’m in the mood to mix it up with trolls, I go to the caves.

    a1) Don’t go to the caves unless you are ready to rock and roll.

    b) Do not ever ever (ever) type the word “sheeple” in any context. Ever.

    c) I love Wil Wheaton and “don’t be a dick” are words to live by.

    d) Keep trying. Fail. Keep trying. Fail less.

    e) Just avoid the comments. Just do it.

    I am last mod standing in a little writers’ group. One day, on a drive-by spam, I put this comment:

    “Self-promo in this group is limited to Thursdays and only after you have introduced yourself and contributed to the group. And, may I add, please leave off of the CAPS LOCK key. Because ZOMGBUYBUYBUYMYBOOKNOWOMGMYBOOKIZTHEBESTEVEH is also not accepted in the group.”

    Immediately a “friend” chimed in and said that the group was for self-promo. I said, “No.” To which she replied, “Come on [name,] let’s get out of this lame-o lol group.” To which I replied, “the flounce exit it to your right.”

    Within 24 hours I had a cryptic note in my “other” message box saying that I had “better watch out who I bash on the Internet because I wouldn’t want bad comments to get posted on Amazon.” (I have a small self-pub project that is part of my family toy business.)

    The 26th through 126th rule: Say what you will, be as big an asshat as you want, but thou shalt never mess with anyone’s business, family, or livelihood via fake reviews on any venue. EVER. That should invalidate your Internet license.

  • All 25 points are good advice… on the net and in life both.

    But mostly: don’t be a dick in either as most of what you say in life and on the net will come around and kick you in the ass in the end no matter what happens.

    And another thing you should add: Don’t believe everything you read/see/watch on YouTube on the net as it can be hoaxed easily, just like in life.

  • I don’t actually disagree with number 18, but I feel like it’s the sort of statement that one also needs to take care with. It’s easily possible to get worn out with internet outrage, but the Cult of Positivity can cause similar weariness, at least in me. Sometimes I’m all out of inspired and uplifted. This is not a good thing. That leads to being dismissive and uncaring about legitimately good things.

    I know that’s not what you said, and “positive” doesn’t mean… Upworthy, it can be, like you said, something funny, or interesting, or cute. But the way some people try to ram being positive down your throat, the word can raise some red flags now.

    • I think “positive” doesn’t equate to Happy! Bright! Here’s a cookie! presentation, actually; at its core, it really just means “moving forward, not downward”. Not everyone has it in them to be a Big Golden Ray of Sunshine all the time, and that’s okay; it just comes back to the “don’t be a dick” part, where as long as it’s not *negative*, it counts as positive in my book (especially in light of the World Wide War atmosphere).

  • Once again, so glad you’re in the world, Chuckster. If we were neighbors, i would leave multiple bags of premium coffee beans on your doorstep.

  • 10 steps for dealing with idiocy on the Internet:

    Step #1: DO NOT ENGAGE. REPEAT, DO NOT ENGAGE!

    Step #2: No seriously, DO. NOT. ENGAGE.

    Step #3: Why are you still thinking of replying to this bullshit?

    Step #4: Is this YouTube? If yes, see steps 1 – 3.

    Step #5: Close the page, browser, or turn off the internet if you’re really that pissed off, because nothing you type while this mad will probably sound intelligent.

    Step #6: Wait. Do something else. Make tea.

    Step #7: Sigh. Still thinking about it? Really? OK. Re-read the comment or thing or whatever. Still mad? Why so mad? Is this worth being mad about? If no, DO NOT ENGAGE.

    Step #8: If yes, answer: is this worth replying to and starting a long, drawn-out internet fight with someone whose mind you will likely not change? Is it worth being mad about for the next several days? If not, DO NOT ENGAGE.

    Step #9: If yes — really? Really, though?

    Step #10: OK, then. Assess: will replying to this help the issue in any significant way? Will a reply initiate meaningful discourse, or will it only add fuel to the fire of stupidity raging on this forum? If you are only replying to further amp up a rage-filled trollish straw-man ridiculous wordfight disguised as a “discussion,” no matter how right you might be, then YOU are part of the problem. Don’t waste your time and effort. Just don’t engage. If it matters so damn much to you, do something to actually help your side of the issue under debate. Share accurate information. Delete the troll if possible. You’re not obligated to defend your point of view from every asshole with a keyboard who’s just out to make people mad. Ask yourself: do you really care about whatever this is — or do you just want to argue? If you really care, ask whether replying will actually make a difference. If you just want to argue, then be the better person and DO NOT ENGAGE.

    Step #11: If replying will facilitate a meaningful conversation, without you losing your shit, proceed with caution. Keep Chuck’s list in mind. But to even get to a point where you’re engaging at all, you should have considered whether the internet conversation you’re about to have is worth your time. I hope it is.

  • I just wanted to a few things to this list:

    26. Understand that a person may have a valid reason for walking away from a heated conversation.

    I grew up with a verbally and emotionally abusive parent, in a house where explosive rage (usually directed towards myself) was an almost daily occurrence. I spent a good portion of my childhood and adolescence cowering. At 24, even after years of therapy, I’m still crawling out from under the emotional burden of my parent’s anger. And one of the most important things I’ve realized is that I have a right and an obligation to take care of myself and my mental well being, and sometimes that involves me removing myself from a situation in which I feel scared or anxious. No, it’s not the ideal response – that will come when I’ve rebuilt my sense of personal security to the point where angry words are not enough to send me scrambling for the Clonopin. But it is a step forward in the healing process, and one which was hard fought for me.

    It takes a certain emotional resilience to face anger and be able to see past it to the underlying message – a resilience people who have experienced violence or abuse are often not equipped with. Please respect that for those of us who have survived abuse, anger and abusive language – whether or not it is directed towards us – can further traumatize us. Respect that there will be times where we need to leave the conversation, and that is it not meant to be dismissive of your own hurt and concerns. Please don’t judge us for this by calling us “cowards” or otherwise attempting to shame us for performing needed self-care.

    Going along with this:

    27. If someone asks you not to contact them, be it on Twitter or otherwise, don’t contact them. Don’t @ them, don’t DM them, don’t do anything. They are taking steps to remove themselves from a situation that has affected them negatively, and you need to respect that. Continuing to contact a person after they have requested you to stop is harassment.

    28. If a person tells you that your words or actions are causing them harm due to a mental illness of theirs, believe them, and back away. Stress can and does trigger symptoms in a variety of mental illnesses, anxiety disorders in particular. Likewise, people with a history of self-harm can be triggered by a tide of anger or abuse directed towards them. I have had to counsel multiple online acquaintances through relapses in their illnesses caused by a pile-on of angry callouts on social media. Almost all of them, when they’ve asked for space following their illness being triggered, received further communications in which those illnesses were dismissed and even made fun of.

    Don’t mock a person’s illness. Don’t accuse them of faking it for attention or in order to avoid the conversation. Speaking personally for myself, if I had the opportunity to trade not having Bipolar Disorder and PTSD anymore with having to deal with a bunch of angry people in my Tumblr ask-box, I’d choose the latter option every. Single. Time. Mental illness is real and can cause serious harm, mentally *and* physically, and if someone is struggling with symptoms you need to respect their privacy and give them the space needed to heal and perform necessary self-care. There are zero good reasons for continuing to attack or otherwise direct your anger towards a person while they are experiencing what is, in essence, a medical emergency.

    Anger is a useful and I would argue necessary communicative tool for oppressed people in helping to make our voices heard and enact change. Anger carries movements; anger talks back to those in power. Anger can make people rise up when they would normally suffer in silence. And in that way, anger can save lives.

    But anger can also cause harm. And it can silence some of the people – victims of violence and abuse, those dealing with mental illness – whose stories most need to be told. Please be aware of how your words and actions contribute to an online community, and ask yourself if you are fostering an environment in which everyone feels safe and secure and able to participate, or if your are fostering an environment which excludes and marginalizes people by making them feel unsafe.

    • Yes. All of the above right here. To the power of Infinity.

      It’s exactly why I don’t use FaceBook, Tumblr or sites like them (I occasionally pipe up on Twitter, but stay well away from any heated debates and trend topics.) And if I leave comments on YouTube videos (amongst all the freaky stuff there are some very talented people out there, and I like to give praise where it’s due) and the obligatory email arrives to say someone’s commented on my comment – I generally don’t go and look to see what they’ve said. YouTube is pretty much Troll Central, and you can get ripped apart for liking/defending something as much as disliking/attacking it.

      I know exactly what you mean, and can identify with a lot of what you said. It doesn’t mean we’re cry-babies, wimps or drama queens if we pull out of a confrontation; everyone has the right to protect themselves from harm, whether that harm is physical or mental.

      I hope some day people will stop thinking of mental illness as something sufferers ‘choose’ to have as ‘their solution to finding life too hard to deal with’ *deep breaths count to ten happy thoughts.* Yeah, that’s another thing people actually say to those of us who have mental health problems. Thanks for raising the point – it’s not one commonly considered unless you’ve been there and felt the pain.

      *fist bump*

  • Here’s a tip. Write what you want to say*, then delete it and write what you ought to say. I find this approach rather cathartic as it allows you to get the bile out of your system without it affecting anyone else, then play a constructive part in the conversation.

    * I’d suggest doing this somewhere other than where you’re in danger of hitting “post” or “share”. Perhaps in a WP document or email to self?

    • Too true about writing what you want to say elsewhere offline – especially on FB – seeing I’ve heard on the news recently that they can find out what you deleted and read it, tracking it directly to you.

      Talk about Big Brothering. 🙁

    • Heh. It’s nice to see that other people do this kind of thing. I have opinions on all sorts of things (well… everything) but before I speak publicly, I try to ask myself if what I have to say really adds to the discussion, if I need to say it, and if expressing myself will ultimately be a positive thing.

      At any rate, I have a few Word docs in my hard drive that are basically my opinions on topics that I don’t want to publicly engage with because they seem too fraught, and I want to preserve my tranquility. Periodically I review and tweak them (when the subject inevitably comes up again), but they’re not going anywhere 🙂

  • Proposing a personal favorite for this growing list:

    Any response that starts out with “Here’s what you think…” is bound to be trouble. It’s also bound to be wrong. If I’m operating under the delusion that I truly understand another person’s thoughts and views, top to bottom, I’m assuming far too much about their ability to express themselves and my own ability to comprehend them. More often than not, “Here’s what you think” is just a sign that we’ve categorized someone, distilled them down into a convenient stereotype so we can toss them into a mental bin.

    Don’t presume, and don’t project. Ask questions.

    And, as a corollary, if you find you aren’t interested in asking questions, if you have no interest in finding out what other people think, you might want to ask yourself why you’re bothering to engage at all.

    • This exact thing happened to me recently. The person told me I believed things I never said I believed. Kept misunderstanding me. Putting words in my mouth. Sometimes people only hear (or read) what they want to hear (or read). So I left. And never went back. I just don’t have time for that.

  • I think maybe this can be simplified:

    If you’re responding to an individual on the internet, pretend you’re responding to him or her in person and he/she could potentially punch you.

    If you’re responding to a group of people on the internet, pretend you’re physically standing in front of a group of people and they could potentially hold you down and take turns punching you.

  • A guideline that serves me well is: Make your point once and walk away. I’ve often found that one well thought out comment delivered in the midst of an ugly argument ends up getting more likes or agreement than any other. I try to stop myself as soon as I find myself repeating the same points to someone more than once. I’ve made my case, it’s there in print for anyone to read — I don’t always have to have the last word or stick around until the fire burns out.

    • Yes, I think this is very good advice. Many people like to get in the last word. I’ll make my point, and carry on a discussion with someone who disagrees if it looks like it is going to be a reasonable exchange. It is pretty easy to identify people who don’t want to consider another perspective and are simply dismissive of them. In that case, I content myself to let my initial response stand and move on to people who are more dialogue-oriented.

  • Here’s one to add, after an experience today (though in many ways it embodies different points made in Chuck’s list, above):

    Don’t assume you can know someone based on a few tweets, a blog post, or a ten-second sound bite.

    I was just recommending a series of books to a colleague today, and it was one I’d discussed with other colleagues recently because I didn’t care for some tweets the author made. This colleague said “I thought you didn’t like author X,” to which I responded “why would you think that? I don’t even know the person.”

    A tweet or similar communication on social media gives us a focal point, and being the creatures we are as human beings we like to extrapolate from that to fill in gaps in our knowledge about the person. But humans are complex, contradictory things, and the idea that we can really know a person from such brief interactions, or distill the entirety of their being into a few quick interactions on social media, doesn’t make sense.

    When I see posts from someone I don’t agree with, I first try to think about where they are coming from. After doing that, I might still disagree with what they said, but I don’t let it go from “person X said something I don’t agree with” to “person X must be a terrible person.”

    Sometimes it takes some reflection to adhere to that, particularly if emotions are involved, but I think it is the right approach.

  • All excellent advice. I’ve held #4 as a personal rule for a number of years now, and it has caused lengthy silences on Facebook a number of times. The world would be a less stressful place if people thought for a second before clicking the submit button.

  • It’s like chucks the writer whisperer. I should use this list as a tool to help me not be afraid to suck!! Critics just give perspective, and perspective is one of my favorite parts of writing.
    Who doesn’t love a good rage post here and there, they can be pretty funny because people can be phsyco and sometimes that’s entertaining but…..can I handle it about my writing… directed toward me…I d k?????why is it so terrifying?? Serioulsy why am worried about what future dickheads say about my future writing! At this point having a bad review would put me further ahead than I am right now! It would be cooler just to be open minded about criticism…that’s on my to do list!

  • March 7, 2014 at 9:17 PM // Reply

    Pour me a drop of whiskey. A bit more. Just a bit more. A bit more than THAT. And a bit, and a bit… THAT’S more like it.
    Now we can make ourselves comfortable and chat about this.

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