In the months leading up to the last election I had some good online political discussions with a friend whose beliefs on many issues were quite the opposite of mine.
What I valued about those exchanges was their thoughtfulness. He stated his position, backing it up with reasoning and asking me my thoughts.
While we gently prodded each other and sometimes expressed disbelief at the other’s opinion, we maintained respect for each other and genuine interest in the opposing point of view. Not once did he call me an idiot. Not once did I suggest he was ignorant.
Unfortunately, it seems that this experience is far from the norm. In my Internet news wanderings, I have found most comments to be flippant and mean. Negative voices generally outweigh the positive ones, and information (dare I say “fact”?) is rare.
It’s not hard to figure out why that’s the case. We are overloaded with information (according to a 2011 IDC paper, the world’s information is doubling every two years) and can’t possibly absorb it all, much less reply to it; so we only respond to the posts that stir us — most often the ones that upset us.
Even then, our responses tend to be off-the-cuff, because our time is limited, and we know that if we put the article aside to comment on later, we’ll likely never come back to it.
The meanness is more surprising to me. I get that it’s easier to say something nasty through a keyboard than to someone’s face, and I realize that the people who use screen names that don’t reveal their identity might feel free to express their thoughts as strongly as they want. But does this indicate that people’s true feelings are so often attacking and hurtful?
These factors add up to an online environment that is neither safe nor welcoming, one that discourages participation and inhibits the sharing of ideas and information. For our children, who are consumed with figuring out who they are and how they fit into their social circles, it can be a damaging and unforgiving place.
We can create friendlier virtual communities through example and by letting people know when their comments are inappropriate. In our own social networks, we can block or “unfriend” people who make harmful comments.
I value hearing people’s thoughts and opinions even when — or maybe especially when — they are different from mine. Diverse ideas push me to consider my own thoughts. Sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I strongly disagree, which also teaches me something. But it’s hard to take in new ideas if they’re delivered with poison.
Thank you for making Moms Talk a safe place.