‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. My mum used to say this to me and my sisters and I think I might even have said it to my children at some point. (Don’t judge me. This is what happens; one minute you’re young and carefree and rolling your eyes at things your parents say, the next you’re walking along and you catch sight of the reflection in a shop window of a woman with those funny jowly bits on her face, a woman who looks a bit like your mum. This is you. You are your mum, or your dad, possibly a bit of both. Deal with it).
Of course, we can’t always say nice things, that would be silly. Sometimes we have to say not very nice things, it’s part of life, but you can still say them in a nice way.
Some people just aren’t nice and a really good place to find those people is online. In real life we have social etiquette and manners and rules and friends and partners, as well as an inherent desire to be liked, to ensure that we think about what we say and how we say it. But sitting in front of a computer in your front room in your pants, it’s easy to forget all these things, especially if you’re that way inclined anyway.
You have to expect people to disagree with you, I’ve talked about that before. If you put yourself out there and have strong views about something, then you have to expect that there will be a lot of people who don’t agree with you. That’s good though, it’s what online debate is all about and if you don’t like it then you should maybe shut up.
We all hear about internet trolls, people who try to deliberately provoke you. I had first hand experience of this a few days ago. A friend of mine wrote a blog post called The Call Centre: Adventures in Depression and I retweeted it. It upset a couple of fans of the television programme it mentioned, people who thought I’d written it myself, people who hadn’t even read the post and who ended up comparing the writer to Hitler. Godwin’s Law is well known on the internet, it claims that all internet arguments will eventually result in someone making some kind of comparison to Hitler, (yes, forget genocide, that’s a picnic compared to writing some words about some stuff). In this case it happened in about five tweets and usually, when it gets to that stage, the discussion is over. These people are often quite entertaining, you read what they say, realise there is no logic to what they’re saying and you block them. It’s not personal, it’s what they do.
Worse than the trolls though are the people who claim to be nice, but aren’t. I call them the Twitter Police. They’re the ones who happily point out any mistakes you make, you can imagine the glee in their faces as they jump on that typo. Another friend of mine thanked a few people on twitter for re-tweeting her tweet. She wrote it as RT’s and not as RTs. Most people didn’t even notice, you probably don’t even notice and will have to look twice. But one person did. She added a sarcastic comment to the end of it and re-tweeted it to her followers. I’m sure she felt great, very smug, she’d been the one to spot it, she must be really, really clever. But was it worth it? Because it made my friend feel a bit rubbish, she was embarrassed and thought people would think she was stupid. This is a friend who is a brilliant writer, as well as being a fantastic painter. A friend who speaks at least five languages. And one person, with one little comment, completely knocked her confidence. Usually, when people make a point of publicly pointing out someone else’s faults, it says more about the person doing the pointing than the person who made the mistake. Does it really matter? Will the world be a better place if you tell someone what they’ve done wrong? I don’t think so.
It’s easy to get into arguments online. You have the ability to type before you think properly, you can’t see the person you’re talking to, you can’t read the social cues and sarcasm gets lost. I’ve done it. But I tend to notice what’s happening and I stop and walk away. It’s easy to forget how much words can hurt. It’s easy to fall into behaviour that could be classed as bullying. I’m pretty certain that nobody has died because they didn’t have the last word, and some people are never going to think the same as you, ever. It doesn’t matter. What you think is what matters. (Unless you think I really do want a regular update about what level you are on in Candy Crush on Facebook, in which case you are very wrong.)
The irony of this post is that I’ve written most of it while on hold to the tax people, feeling a bit cross. But as with all of my posts, do as I say, not as I do.
Disclaimer: I am not sat writing this in my pants.
Disclaimer to the disclaimer: Although obviously I am wearing pants.