Is it rude to tell someone face to face to “Go f*^&^ yourself!” or that they are stupid, based on their words and implied intentions? If you were in a small-talk conversation with a friendly stranger or even an acquaintance about a certain topic and disagreed, would you hurl vitriolic comments at them?
I find it at once fascinating and disheartening that online forums have seemingly given many people permission to spew personal insults at one another. We’ve all heard about how the anonymity of the internet has empowered us to share our true opinions and hide behind our login name or avatar, and to a large extent, that’s being borne out in many ways.
Don’t get me wrong – and I’m talking to you, people who are already firing up their keypad to slam me –I appreciate the fact that we collectively can comment on people’s thoughts, ideas and expressions in a public way. Begin able to comment can be constructive, in starting and continuing a dialogue, across many relevant subjects.
What I have a problem with is the, well, meanness of some of the commentators. It’s not just the trolls, who are inevitable and will invariably display awful, just-how-were you-raised? kind of behavior.
You need only scroll through some viral blog posts to see everyday meanness in action. It’s all there on the page, and it goes beyond a healthy discussion, in many cases and in my opinion.
One case in point is a blog post that went viral earlier this week, written by a mom of boys who lamented the propensity of some teenage girls to post provocative “selfies” on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites.
As a fellow mom of teenage boys (and one younger girl) who has been known to monitor their walls once in a while, I can see this blogger’s point. When I went back later and re-read her post, which was shared by several of my social media friends during the course of the day, I wasn’t surprised by the divisive nature of the topic – moms of girls defended them and the blogger was taken to task for posting her comments with, ironically, photos of her shirtless boys flexing their muscles – but I was shocked to see the personal attacks aimed at the writer and at other posters on the pages who shared at least some of her feelings.
Rude comments aren’t new, and it’s why blog sites – including this one – include the ability to remove out-of-line, troll-like and intentionally hurtful remarks.
And once again – for all of those who think I don’t tolerate other opinions than my own – I truly value, appreciate and take advantage freedom of speech every day of my life.
But I fear we are creeping past a line of decency. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of hate speech or rude speech.
Whatever happen to respectfully disagreeing? There is so much pure vitriol out there, in so many places, that I wonder if it’s somehow enabling and enhancing rudeness in other parts of our lives. Are we okay giving the finger at the guy next to us in traffic now, because we’ve feel some kind of tacit permission to express our inner, not-so-nice thoughts in our online lives? Do we talk back to our bosses and teachers, in a way that we wouldn’t have 10 or 20 years ago, because online forums have given us a certain expected openness of expression?
Talk about blurred lines.
While I lament the inherent meanness that is showing up in a lot of comments, I have taken heart in other types of viral posts. Maybe you saw the one this week about a stranger who picked up the tab of a family with a special needs child, and the waitress who shared the actual bill with the sweet note on it from the generous fellow diner. You feel good when you read that kind of viral post and the almost 95% supportive comments, compared to feeling angry, sad or sort of sullied after reading and maybe taking part in outrageous, offensive back-and-forth commentary on other posts.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That’s what we were told as kids, as a mantra to overcome bullying, but it’s not really true, is it?
Nice matters. Meanness sucks.