Settle Down, People: Dealing with Anger on the Internet

I’ve purposely waited on this post for a time when there wasn’t something happening online that some of my friends were in a huff about. Then again, since I’m writing this ahead of time, I suppose there’s a chance that something blows up in the next day or so, but that’s the risk I’m going to have to take.

The thing is, everyone seems to get all upset about something or other these days. I’m as guilty about it as the next person, I know. There have been times that I see something online, and I just go into rage mode. I write an inflammatory post lambasting whatever angered me, and it feels really cathartic.

But we need to do less of that.

Because what good is it doing anyone at this point, honestly? I’m not talking about open, frank discussion of serious issues. Rather, I’m looking at people who view the internet as one big game of “Gotcha!” They lie in wait, lurking, waiting for someone to say something that can be misconstrued or something that’s ill advised, and then they jump all over that person. Or they jump all over the people who jumped all over the person. It goes both ways.

Life is too short, folks.

Why does this happen? Some of it comes from the fact that we can find people who think the way we think so easily these days. The internet has made the world a much smaller place, easier for people to connect and share opinions. At the same time, it’s made it that much easier for upsetting opinions to come in front of us as well. In a way, it all reminds me of a PvP server.

Drawing on my World of Warcraft experiences, there are two basic types of servers. In the first, people are only allowed to fight other people if other people allow it. In the second (player vs. player, or PvP), anyone can fight anyone else at any time. So you’d just be sitting there, calmly picking herbs or fishing, and this huge high level player might ride by and slaughter you, just for kicks.

It was a bad feeling, to say the least. And so what people would do then is tell their buddies about the guy who’d just slaughtered them, and the buddies would show up with higher level characters to get some revenge, and before you know it, you had all out war. Of course, because this was an online game, it was a war that resulted in nothing more than some hurt feelings and wasted time.

Which pretty much sums up most of these forced internet eruptions, when you think about it.

The other day, one of my posts on Mormonism started getting a few comments from people who clearly thought I was an idiot. The post wasn’t new, and I was curious where all the traffic was coming from. Maybe it was just one person who’d decided to try and annoy me by posting with different names. So I checked out my site statistics, and I found out a ton of people were coming to the site from an ex-mormon Reddit site. Clicking over there, I discovered someone had posted a link to my blog, along with some choice words of exactly what they thought of me. And then other people chimed in to agree. For a brief moment, I was a pretty popular guy to mock over there.

I was faced with a choice. People were making fun of me online. I could try and defend myself. Write back against the people who were criticizing me. Or I could issue a call for help on Facebook or Twitter and see if other people could rally to the cause and defend my good name.

What did I choose to do?

Not a blessed thing. I just read over the comments, bit my tongue, and stayed silent. Why? Because for the most part, these were people whose minds were already made up. They weren’t really interested in carrying on a conversation, and I had no real desire to get into an argument that would do nothing more than waste my time. True, there were a few who seemed reasonable, and who I would have liked to talk with, but if I started responding to them, then the rabid ones would know I was paying attention.

Don’t poke bears with sticks when you’re on the internet. (Or in real life, for that matter.)

So I ignored it, and in a day or two, the traffic had gone elsewhere. I honestly think I’m better off for choosing that approach, and I think a lot of people would be happier if they would follow suit.

At the very least, take some time before responding to things immediately.

Then again, some of this isn’t caused by emotions, but by something that’s far worse in my opinion: the desire to get eyeballs.

Having written a blog for quite some time now, I know all about this. I put a fair bit of effort into my posts, and I pay attention to what gets a lot of views and what goes unnoticed. When I come across a topic I’m pretty sure will get a good discussion going, it’s hard to not want to write it up as soon as I can. I want people to listen to me, after all. And this is on a very small scale. There are some people out there with much, much bigger soap boxes and loud speakers. In those cases, I think it’s even more important to be careful with what you post. I’ve seen friends and acquaintances start falling into this trap, getting into very public scrapes about some very petty topics. In general, I end up walking away thinking the less of everyone involved.

Then again, maybe that’s why my blog has continued to be relatively unnoticed. Such is life. My blog reflects who I am and what I value. Other people are certainly entitled to run their blogs the way they see fit.

Anyway. This isn’t just about blog posts. It’s intended to be about anything social media-related. The same principles apply to things we share on Facebook, or comments we make on Facebook posts. Is this post going to change the way the internet works? Nope. But maybe it’ll change the way a few people think about interacting online, and that would be nifty. If it does nothing else, it’s helped crystallize a few thoughts I personally have been having, and that’s a plus for me.

And that’s about all I have to say about that for now.

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