In face to face conversations our innate inhibitions serve as a safety catch. Whatever our abilities (or the lack therof) in the social skills arena, we follow a code of behavior regulated by our cultural/social views. We agree the anonymous messages are rude and vicious. In most societies calling someone names is considered rude and reflects badly on the speaker. Similarly comments on others’ physical attributes, financial, social and family situations follow a very fine line. Yes, I agree…not everyone has the ability, empathy or the self confidence to know and follow this rule. But then those who cross this line are considered rude, self absorbed, gauche, uncouth and in some cases unpleasant.
But the anonymity offered by the internet is the perfect cover for all kinds of behaviors to crawl out of the woodwork. Where we would stop to think about how the other person may feel, we type in the first thought which comes to our mind. We justify this with righteous indignation, BLOCK LETTERS and over use of punctuation marks!!! After all, the recipient is an anonymous poster and we have the final say in the matter.
There is no safe haven from those who want others to kowtow to their views—be it a thread asking for advise on classroom adaptations, a thread on family issues…just last week I found one on a thread about a particular brand of luggage. A vituperative opinion on the luggage thread may not do much damage, but replies to people who are emotionally vulnerable can push them over the edge.
What can be done? If you are participating in a discussion on a cultural/social/religious value and someone challenges your views or moral stand:
- Take a walk
- Go get a drink of water
- Write a reply on a word document and delete it
- Try not to respond…but if you feel you absolutely must, rewrite a more logical and polite response
- Assess whether the other person really cares what you have to say—is it really a debate or just two people at loggerheads?
- Go to sleep and post your response the following morning
- If none of the others work, maybe you too have a problem—seek professional help.
Another word of caution...the internet is not really that anonymous. In cases which have been tried because children/students/adults have commtted suicide thanks to comments online, prosecutors have been able to trace the person because of IP address and such...so watch what you say out of self preservation if not out of compassion for the unknown poster.