Stick with me on this one, if you don’t mind. It’s longer and more serious than my usual blog entry but I do have a point! I promise! It’s at the end along with a cute picture of Nikki’s outfit yesterday which is HYSTERICAL. But you have to read the entry to see the picture! (Let’s both pretend the scroll button doesn’t work the way it actually does, okay?)
It is no secret that I am – just about – the least controversial blogger around. Even though I have very controversial beliefs (You know…like the KRAZEE notion that people should be able to marry someone they love, INSANE!) I still avoid in writing in any way that creates any sort of firestorm. I don’t tolerate even the slightest bit of cruelty in my comments and I really don’t even like to snarkily blog about celebrities. I may have my moments of weakness, but overall? I like this place on the internet to just be…well…nice.
However – If you’ve been unfortunate enough to ever read the comment section at a news site, or YouTube, you know that there are completely irrationally cruel people online in not-so-nice areas of the internet. They leave mean comments about ugly kids on parent’s home videos. They leave harsh and judgemental insults about do-gooders in the online version of your local paper. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. We had an awesome hairstylist in Huntsville who did an AWESOME hairstyle on someone (RAINBOW HAIR!) and the commenters decided she must have Daddy Issues. YES, They did.
Anil Dash wrote a brilliant piece about how if you manage a website, you need to factor in the cost of policing your community, or else don’t have one. I loved the piece because it echoed what I’ve been saying for awhile. We need to do our part to control and/or eliminate the negative energy on the web where we can.
How many times have you seen a website say “We’re not responsible for the content of our comments.”? I know that when you webmasters put that up on your sites, you’re trying to address your legal obligation. Well, let me tell you about your moral obligation: Hell yes, you are responsible. You absolutely are. When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you’re the person who made it possible, it’s 100% your fault. If you aren’t willing to be a grown-up about that, then that’s okay, but you’re not ready to have a web business. Businesses that run cruise ships have to buy life preservers. Companies that sell alcohol have to keep it away from kids. And people who make communities on the web have to moderate them.
He goes on to give excellent pointers on how to control your community. And here’s the thing – this is not taking away someone’s freedom of speech. They can speak whatever they want on their own domain. That’s kinda always been my point as well. There are plenty of hate-filled websites out there. It is up to you on your website to try to curb the hatred (if you so desire). If I tell you that using homophobic or racist slurs gets you banned from my home, then that is not me infringing on your freedom of speech. It is me simply saying, “You are not allowed to be a douche on property I pay for. Go be a douche on your own property.”
Yesterday, Loralee brought up another good facet to this discussion: How responsible are we for what our commenters or readers do elsewhere because of something we may have said? I say we are not responsible for anything other people do, unless we knowingly encouraged them. Then, I think, part of the responsibility does lie with us.
I am not a big-name blogger, but I have had the random negative blog entry written about me. I knew I could have mentioned it on my blog and my commenters would have come to my rescue. BUT – what if someone in that group turned ugly on their site? How would that make me feel? Not good. Now, sometimes the temptation is too strong if the source is too evil, I understand that. And sometimes I’ve given in to the temptation to rile the masses because it makes me feel better INSTANTLY. But I then feel crappy later. So, in general, I do believe that it is up to each of us controlling a space on the web to think about those things before we rally the troops in our defense.
Does this mean we all need to get along? NO. Encourage discourse without vitriol. It can be done. People can disagree, even argue, without resulting to irrelevant and cruel insults. Conversations can be politely ended at, “We will agree to disagree,” and no one’s children have to be insulted in the process.
Will we make mistakes? Sure we will. I know I have. But I would like to think that if we each took responsibility for our space and our actions on the web and did our best to encourage rational, intellectual, – and even kind discussions – it would be a better place out here.
Now…if you have no problem with the growing trend of vitriol online? Then I guess none of this relates to you. But, I do have a problem with it. I have a problem with the growing trend of vitriol everywhere, to be honest with you. Signs that say “GOD HATES FAGS” at funerals of dead children make my sould cringe; and websites dedicated to badmouthing people just for the sake of BADMOUTHING PEOPLE make my heart hurt.
If you haven’t seen any of this in action, read Katie’s heartfelt words about how painful it is to read comments about her son’s drug related death in the online version of her local paper.
I wish so much that all those people saying those awful things about my boy over in the Knoxville News Sentinel online newspaper comments this week could have known Henry as a real person, and not as some kind of abstraction as part of the news cycle. He never, ever would have said ugly, pointlessly cruel things like that about someone he didn’t know…or someone he did know. He really wouldn’t have. He just wasn’t like that. You can ask ANYONE who knew Henry in any context and they will tell you how remarkably kind he was. He might have been addicted to drugs, but he was never mean-spirited or ugly toward others.
HERE IS FINALLY MY POINT OF THIS RAMBLING ENTRY
All of this comes down to a very important lesson for parents: We HAVE to adjust the way we teach kindness at home. Hopefully, we all talk to our children about not being MEAN. We don’t make fun of kids in our class because they don’t have nice clothes. We don’t laugh at obese people in public. We don’t point at the handicapped and giggle. I hope these are the general lessons and examples we give our children that are examples of BAD BEHAVIOR.
Now, we need to provide other examples. We need to teach them about the responsibility of anonymity. That just because they can’t get discovered or caught being mean, doesn’t make it okay. We need to take time to explain to them that words hurt, no matter what their source. That even though you may think it’s funny to post a mean comment on someone’s parenting video, that the parent and child on the other end have feelings too. Making someone sad for the sake of a laugh is not proper behavior. We need to add caveats to the lessons we teach our kids that bring in example of the internet. And we need to do this before they have the power at their fingertips.
Kids are going to do mean things. I did. One year I helped create a club called “The We Hate So-in-So Club” with so-in-so being the name of the new (and VERY pretty) girl that started our class. We were very welcoming, don’t you think? And then, on the other side of the coin, I was once put on some sort of Sluttiest Girl list as “Kim ‘The Whore’ Moore”. That was awesome. Kids are probably going to do mean crap even if you beat them senseless about being kind. But the thing is, now there’s the internet. They can be mean to MANY MORE PEOPLE at a time now. Not just the periodic dork in school or new kid. Now they can be mean to huge groups of people in just a few hours.
Let me tell you from experience, kids these days don’t think about their actions online in the BIG PICTURE because it’s all still very “new.” (And kids – in general – are very self-involved.) I mean “new” in the sense that social networking has had a big boom in the last few years. None of the kids leaving these nasty comments online have had the privilege of seeing their own children insulted online. That seems to be the wake-up call for most of us about how mean the internet is. Someone trashes us and we get upset, but they trash our kids? WATCH OUT, BECAUSE NOW I’M TAKING OUT MY ANGRY EYES.
But you know what? If we all waited until we had kids to stop being mean online, then it’s too late to save the internet. Instead, let’s teach kids before they get online that – just because the internet allows them to hide – doesn’t mean their words don’t hurt.
And also, teach them that their Facebook pages or Tumblr pages are their spots to police. They need to understand that if they let friends trash someone else on their Facebook page and that someone finds it – EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T SAY A WORD – they are still responsible.
Our parents didn’t talk to us about this because it didn’t exist as a problem. We need to teach our children. The internet does not give you a free-pass to be a bully. You still need to be KIND. You can argue and disagree without resorting to cruel insults that hit below the belt. Teach them about respect. And teach them the power of IGNORING people who aren’t as enlightened as they are. I’ve seen the back-and-forths turn SO UGLY…and So out of control. We need to tell our kids very specific examples: Someone is probably going to try to start a fight with you. If you give in, you lose control of the situation. If you ignore them? The situation ends WITH YOU HOLDING THE POWER.
Because you know what? There are plenty of parents teaching the opposite. Plenty of households where hate is encouraged and cruelty is praised. Where children are taught that people different are lesser and deserve whatever they get – just because they are different. We can’t do anything about those people or their children. The ugly and the evil is going to be put on the internet in many places by those people.
I consider it MY JOB to do everything I can NOT to add to it. Think about how your day gets ruined because of ONE negative encounter. And that – even if you had three or four positive encounters follow that one – the negative encounter still taints all of those. Now, bring that to the subject of cruelty online and it expands exponentially. Not only does one vicious comment hang with the subject of the attack, but it probably fuels other fires that spread the evil across many circles of people. I refuse to add to that and I want to do my best to make sure my children don’t ever do that either.
Now…does this mean I’m coddling my children and trying to make a world full of rainbows and unicorns? Maybe. But in reality, I know there are cruel things I can’t control. And neither can they. I know evil will continue to exist just like those Real Housewives shows that I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND THE APPEAL OF. I am not naive. I do not paint a picture of happiness globally and group hugs at every intersection. Instead, I say there is Plenty Of Mean in the world. PLENTY. I have been victim of it and they will be too. There is no need for us to add any more. I do believe that the more positive energy we put out in the universe – the more that will return back to us. It won’t protect us from negativity, but it will give us light with the anger and hate tends to cover us in darkness.
In my opinion, my moral obligation with my blog is to make sure I do not encourage, nor allow, cruel negativity for the sake of meanness and meanness alone. My moral obligation as a parent is to raise my children to believe the same.
Edited to add this video recommended by Lisa, which cutely sums up what I try to explain to my kids.