Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been newly depressed at the vitriol ordinary people think it’s acceptable to pour out on strangers online.

Yeah, I know it’s not new – NEVER READ THE COMMENTS, and all – but it’s still worth talking about.

Here are the three examples that have tipped me over the edge, and three ideas for what we can do about it.

The problem x3

1. This is how it feels to be Emily Writes, a beautiful, incandescent writer who attracts the nastiest abuse I’ve seen:

Imagine every third interaction you have all day being abuse. There’s scales of course – it’s not all “fat cunt”. It’s also “feel so bad for your kids to have you as their mum”. All day, and all night. Doesn’t matter what you say – you get it on all platforms. In between are micro-aggressions, wilful misunderstandings, mansplaining, condescending unsolicited advice, genuine accidental miscommunication and lots and lots of tired people who can’t help but be assholes sometimes (I’m one). There are of course wonderful and hilarious and kind and beautiful comments, they’re the majority, but for some reason during the night you don’t have those running through your head, even though you should.

[Read more at Emily Writes.]

2. Thanks to the New Zealand Herald, yet another blogger I know, Emily from Raising Ziggy,has had her work a) copied without payment or permission and then b) posted on their Facebook page with an inflammatory headline, late at night.
She woke up to find 127 comments on it, most of them nasty and hurtful and rude.

3. When Imogene Burgess dared to politely suggest McDonald’s join the 21st century and stop calling toys ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’, thousands of people poured abuse on her. Not just disagreement, but nasty, nasty meanness.

I saw several different threads on Facebook sharing the original post, the news article about it, and her opinion piece on the experience. On each of them, there were hundreds of horrible comments. The owners of those Facebook pages should have been deleting them as abusive, but that wasn’t happening.


The Solution x3

Here’s what I suggest: three practical things you can do to make a difference.

1. Call out nastiness when you see it.

Whenever you see a nasty comment, leave a reply that says something like ‘Gosh, that’s a mean thing to say to someone you don’t know!’ I’ve never once had anyone reply to me after that, so it seems like a safe-ish tactic.

We need to call people out on their bad behaviour.
(See also the marvellously wise Captain Awkward’s advice for such things in real life.)

2. Put pressure on moderators to lift their game

Take a few minutes to appeal to organisations where bad commenting behaviour proliferates.

Email the editors of newspaper websites. Tell them you don’t think their moderation is adequate, and you will be voting with your feet. For as long as there is no improvement, stop visiting sites that are breeding grounds for incivility, where they don’t moderate comments adequately. Unlike their Facebook pages, unfollow their social media feeds.

Think about what sites you choose to follow regularly, on social media and via their websites. Do they moderate their comments responsibly? Vote with your clicking.

3. Leave kind and supportive comments wherever you see nastiness.

On the original McDonald’s post there were as many ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ as there were comments, but the people who bothered to write anything were nasty, rather than nice, at a ratio of about 9:1.

You can dilute the nastiness by speaking up. It discourages people from piling on if they see they might not be in the majority, and it tells the content creators that the mean people aren’t the only ones reading.

It’s also good to hit ‘like’ on positive comments, making them more prominent, but adding real words is even better.

What are your tips?

This is adapted from a Facebook post from Thalia Kehoe Rowden, who runs the Sacraparental website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


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