In today’s mobile and hyper-connected world, a constantly increasing number of people are involved in online businesses, and even those who are not spend a great deal of time online communicating with others through a variety of channels. Over the past few years, I’ve been involved in two online businesses, dealt with online self-promotion as a creative professional, and have just generally been a 20-something in the age of social networking, so I’ve certainly encountered and communicated with my share of internet dwellers. Out of this experience has emerged a pretty powerful pet peeve, to which you may very well relate: doesn’t it seem like an extraordinary number of people online are… well, jerks?
Please don’t think for a second that I’m suggesting the internet invented jerks. I know as well as we all do, that the planet was crawling with them long before computers threaded them together. I do think, however, that a tremendous number of people who would behave somewhat differently in person, hide behind the anonymity of the internet where they feel comfortable being rude, argumentative, and otherwise ornery.
They come in many forms: the person on Twitter whose only contribution is telling athletes they suck or comedians they’re not funny; the person on a message board who can’t express his or her opinion without trashing that of others; the person who starts arguments in blog comments for fun, to name a few. You’ve probably encountered a number of other types as well and maybe you’ve even been sucked into an argument out of frustration and, perhaps, said some things you wouldn’t have in person.
We can’t change the way other people behave, but we can change our reactions to online “trolls” and keep our own behavior in check. With more businesses and networking opportunities moving online every day, it’s more important than ever to consider every bit communication important and to hold ourselves to a standard of etiquette of which we can be proud. Before engaging in a discussion online, especially if it has the potential to become a debate, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this how I would respond to this person in a face-to-face conversation?
- Am I providing a helpful and meaningful response?
- Am I engaging this person just to get the last word or put down his/her opinion?
- Am I making statements or accusations that are false, hurtful or misleading just to be damaging?
- Is participating in this discussion worth the frustration it’s causing me?
The loud, rude, opinionated trolls of cyber space might infuriate you, but you’re better off exercising your will power and not engaging them. When you instead contribute meaningfully to discussions and treat others with kindness and respect—no matter what the scenario—people take notice and appreciate your efforts. An email I received recently inspired me to write this post. The person thanked me sincerely for my help with an issue, and said that my comments were a breath of fresh air amidst more argumentative opinions. I was touched. You never know when a meaningful connection might arise from an unexpected place. Online and in person, put your best foot forward and try always to affect people’s lives positively.