It doesn’t take much to convince strangers you’re the worst.
If you’re reading this right now, you are using the internet. Most likely this is nothing new for you. Even more likely, you spend so much time staring at this screen that it has become not an extension of your life, but in many ways, the definition of your existence.
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about why existing online is, for so many of us, awful — despite the fact that no matter how desperately we may want to stop, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
Does it ever feel as though it doesn’t take much to convince a group of online strangers you’re a terrible human being? That’s because it doesn’t. In order to achieve this status — and I’m not talking about racists or TERFs or all-around actually awful people — you need only to check at least one or more of the following boxes.
1. Identify as an underrepresented voice. Doesn’t matter which.
Are you a woman? BIPOC? Disabled? Any letter in the LGBTQAI+ category? Do you practice a religion other than Christianity? Basically, are you anything other than a white cisgender heterosexual man? Do I have some great news for you!
As a member of multiple minority groups (which ones? None of your business), I can personally attest to the phenomenon that is “saying anything when it’s obvious you’re not ‘normal’ online.” I could tweet that I get frustrated when men I work for don’t listen to my ideas in editorial meetings and I could go viral (maybe I already have) for — reasons? Not that I ever want this to happen…see point #3.
Once you’re in one way or another outed as being an underrepresented voice in any fandom, field, or community, you’re instantly more likely to attract higher volumes of hate in response to anything and everything you say on the internet.
Wait — you’re telling me a person can’t actually choose to be a member of an underrepresented group? This is something entirely out of their control, and therefore attracting unwanted negative attention for simply existing in the world is something they never asked for and don’t deserve?
2. Have an opinion. Any opinion. It makes no difference.
It turns out getting people to disagree with you is as easy as type, tweet, see what happens! Because no matter what you have to say, on either side of the argument, someone somewhere will not only disagree with you — they will also feel the need to launch their more intense, sometimes much stronger opinions right back at you. Especially when this is exactly what you did not ask for!
One strange thing about the internet (of which there are many) is that it prompts people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t face-to-face. It would be weird, right, to state an opinion out loud and immediately have someone loudly and forcefully tell you all the ways you’re wrong … right? Just me? Okay.
Sometimes people log onto the internet to state opinions, and sometimes they do so with the intention of attracting reactions to these opinions. But this is not always the case. Often times, people use their online presences (or lack thereof) to document their thoughts. It is, for the most part, what the internet is for.
Are all opinions exempt from retaliation? Of course not. But here’s a novel philosophy to adopt: If someone’s opinion isn’t hurting or endangering anyone, doesn’t affect you personally, and changes nothing about the real world we all live in outside of our screens, you can — perhaps you should — just keep scrolling.
3. Express your feelings openly. Make yourself vulnerable in public.
That way, anyone jealous of your openness will have no choice but to call you names. How DARE you talk about feelings! On the internet! Who in their right mind would do such a thing?
Because everyone knows that someone discussing their emotional responses to anything and everything online must either be seeking attention or — the worst possible scenario — they’re the kind of person who openly admits when they are mentally unwell, which is beyond unacceptable in this day and age, didn’t you know?!
Making yourself appear “emotional” on the internet is by far the quickest way to cast mass judgment upon yourself. Strangers will almost immediately assume things about you, usually of the negative variety. Whether you’re asking for help, confessing things aren’t going well, or simply practicing the very normal and human act of venting, you’ll be given labels. Many of which strangers will offer up to you in response to the post or posts in question.
Life is hard. Everyone — EVERYONE — is struggling with something. Many people do not advertise their struggles online, and honestly, that’s great for them, it really is. Perhaps we should all aspire to be more reserved online in that regard.
But sometimes? Sometimes you’ve just had it with existence. Amazon delivered the wrong item (again) when you really needed the correct one. Your boss isn’t hearing you. Medical bills are dumb. Your air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks. You can barely afford to live. You’re just not happy. With anything. Ever.
Sometimes it’s all just too much, and maybe that turns into you saying something about it online. Not because you need someone to respond, but because it just feels good to release that tension in that very particular way.
As long as it’s not hurting anyone — why is that so wrong?
The answer is apparently simple: Because it works both ways. Sometimes responding to a stranger’s emotions with equally negative emotions might make the person replying feel better about themselves.
There is no solution to any of this other than to assume some people who don’t practice empathy will learn why they should and apply that knowledge to their online interactions later.
Many people will not do this. Why care about a stranger when you can care only about yourself, how your actions impact you, and how you can make things easier only for you and no one else?
The internet may be weird, but it is nothing more than a reflection of humankind and our collective existence, how we behave, how we treat each other. The things we do to survive.
What an odd world indeed.