The internet of ugliness

April 17, 2015

Striving to understand.

It’s been one of those months where I’ve seen the best of people online–and the worst of them, too.

I wish I could say I’d lived long enough to be un-shockable, to say, “yeah, I expected that,” but it’s not true. I am still shocked and dismayed when I observe mean and ugly words and behavior.  These things, I just don’t understand them, even though I have experienced them for years in my own family.  It’s painful, but I’m rather glad I’m not too jaded to be shocked.  I’m glad I view this behavior as shocking and unacceptable.

As much as I love what our online social world brings us — new friends, worthwhile activities, inspirational people, it also seems to provide a means for people’s pain and bitterness to come spewing out –safely– on the screen.  In a recent post I wrote about loving people who seem most unlovable and, as the Universe always seems to do, no sooner had I hit “POST” than I started encountering some of the most unlovable people online, challenging me to get past my shock and disapproval and get to the love part.

Ha! Don’t you love it when the Divine does that? And don’t think I didn’t make the connection.

Social Media seem to provide safe places for ugly behavior

In one group a woman decided to take offense to a Facebook comment when none was intended and put up her dukes repeatedly against the perpetrator, posting mean and ugly things and attributing the worst motives to the other person. It was violence on the screen and it made me cringe, even though I wasn’t the target.  As I sat with it, though, her pain became clear. Her defensiveness was rooted in that pain and the damage that had been done to her –clearly–by others in her life. I tried to access that part of the situation, even though her behavior was repellent and undeserved by her target.

But that’s the way it is with people who act out, isn’t it? The real reason has nothing to do with the situation.

I decided not to participate in that discussion–I wanted no part of the ugliness.  And then, it wouldn’t stop. Other group members, tone deaf to the need to calm the waters, decided to weigh in, prolonging the agony. Seriously, girls, what is it you didn’t get about the need to put a stop to this by not piping in with your own thoughts, hostilities, apologies?

It is the ugly side of the internet.

What makes me nuts is that it is almost always women who act out like this. I hardly ever see it in men.


Be gentle with each other.

In another scenario, a blogger wrote a post that was clearly intended in a light vein. But to a particular group of women, it wasn’t funny and they began to demonize the blogger. They looked past what was obvious–the intended humor–and flogged the blogger from the safety of the internet.  And they were immune to suggestion that this was not a flogging offense.  They were actually spinning off the blogger’s post to express dissatisfaction with their own way of life. What I saw in their responses was not just the tone deafness, but bitterness and then, most shockingly, I saw racism of the worst kind.

Now, in my world, racism does not appear. So when I see it around–usually on TV– it is particularly jarring.  What was worse in this case was that poster didn’t seem to care that her attitude was racist and out there for the world to see. She probably felt safe among others who thought similarly. That her attitude would be accepted.

What a stark reminder that my world is not THE world, something I know intellectually but forget, emotionally. In my world, people give one another the benefit of the doubt. Strive to find common ground. Behave respectfully.

The concept of being tone deaf appears again and again in the world–the inability to identify intent, much less nuances, and take those into account.  This kind of critical thinking is fast disappearing.

lily 22On another site I saw a moving, sensitive article about the death of child. And then the attacks on the writer began. The writer couldn’t possibly understand since she had not lost a child. Moms don’t have a bond that allows them have any idea at all what losing a child might feel like if they don’t already belong to that horrific club.  Blah blah blah. You shouldn’t say this. You should say that.

As much as reader interaction is deemed a good thing, I see so much commenter cruelty and incivility that sometimes I think comments should be disabled. Not every reader has a pearl of wisdom to offer and when the comments are just plain rude, I see no reason for them.  (And I am so grateful for the kind and respectful tone of commenters on this site. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  I’m just sorry other sites do not have such smart and compassionate commenters.)

I can’t imagine women behaving this way 25 years ago. But when they observe this same kind of disrespectful, judgmental and tone deaf behavior in the world around them, say,  on their favorite network–Faux News–they begin to think it’s ok. Incivility has become mainstream behavior and all I can do is shake my head in dismay.

It’s been almost 25 years since the late Rodney King cried out plaintively, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Apparently, we still can’t.

25 comments on “The internet of ugliness
  1. Hi Carol, I couldn’t agree more. I hate the mean-spiritedness that comes out in the comments section on some blogs I’ve seen. I just don’t live in a world where that is acceptable – I can’t even handle people shouting at each other in real life. I disabled the comments on my blog because one mean one would be enough to kill me a little inside – I don’t have the thick skin needed to brush it off. I’m glad all your commenters are kind. Lovely post 🙂

  2. Laura Kennedy says:

    You don’t see men acting out this way? Really? I have personally seen it many times. Also, check out the comments on any news story. Or google Gamergate. Nastiness on the internet is not gender specific.

  3. Dee Morales says:

    I totally agree. Case in point with the ESPN reporter that lashed out on closed circuit camera to an employee. I am a field producer for national television shows and over and over I have seen these thoughtless, angry rants kill careers, ruin politicans and even close down fraternity houses. I realize there is this wonderrful right in our country called freedom of speech…but really if you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma…maybe you shouldn’t say it at all.

  4. Adela says:

    Carol, you speak my mind.
    Yesterday, I saw a mean-spirited post by someone who prides herself as a person of love. I’ve been contemplating how or if I should call her out. She is my grown godchild, so I believe it is part of my duty to open her eyes, so to speak. Anyways, your post is so helpful for me.

    You are lucky to contain your reading to mainly women. Men go way beyond petty and strike with deadly force. Sometimes I steer clear of reading comments because of the vitriol meted out against the writer.

  5. There is a lot of ugliness that goes on behind a screen. I haven’t been on social media long and am shocked almost daily.

  6. I have always been teased for being nicey nice. Why can’t we just get along? I’ve been asking that question since I was a child. I still don’t understand why we all just can’t get along!

  7. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to delete posts on Facebook because two of my friends (or more) get into a shouting match. I’ve been called a racist by someone I thought had more sense, because she misread something and then doubled down when called out on it. I’ve been blocked — not just unfriended, but blocked — by four members of my own family, and I’ve had to put the entire rest of them (aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins-in-law) in a group that I routinely block from seeing most of my posts because they don’t know how to get along with anyone who has a different opinion.

    And it’s not just women. The men are right in there, as well. I wouldn’t say that they’re any meaner or more vicious, just different. Surgical strikes as opposed to grenades.

    I’ve gotten so sick of it, I have — more than once — contemplated leaving Facebook altogether, and going back to living in ignorance of how intolerant some of my friends and family can be when their worldviews are challenged, even slightly.

    Then I realized I’m not at fault. They are. So I just quietly make my opinions invisible to them.

    This is also why I never read the comment section on a blog (except certain exceptions, such as yours), YouTube (especially YouTube), or news sites.

    People are ugly when they’re anonymous. And I don’t see it getting better, I see it getting worse.

    • And I just saw someone being abusive and hurtful on a GoFundMe page where a family is trying to raise money to help defray the costs of a kidney transplant. It is unbelievable to me that anyone would choose to go onto a page like that and accuse the people of fraud and then abuse people, insulting them without knowing anything about them.

      What are we becoming, exactly?

  8. Jeanine says:

    Yep! It’s like people love hiding behind a screen to bring it as ugly as they can. It’s ridiculous.

  9. I think that many people have become even nastier since they feel they can hide behind the computer. Although not everyone is like that of course, but I wish it would stop.

  10. harriet says:

    Just like in anything else in life, there are all kinds of people on the internet. That is for sure.

  11. I hate to see a mean spirited comment on social media. Before I got my computer (late computer bloomer), I had no idea that so many idiots lived in our world.

  12. WendysHat says:

    It’s too bad that people choose to be unkind. I choose to be positive and don’t have time to dwell on anything else.

  13. The meanness is definitely bordering on out of control. I am a bit nervous about the impending election cycle. I love a good, healthy debate but nobody seems to know how to debate anymore.
    I was a bit shocked this morning, listening to people coming to the ESPN girls defense. Then I remembered a time when my car was towed. Luckily there were no cameras back then.
    The woman sounded very immature though, she ranted like a 7th grader.

  14. Britney says:

    This is good, most people just go online and post or say something bad about another person instead of just confronting them.

  15. I think men do it as well. Just other ways. Like being a jerk over the phone. People do things ugly when they aren’t face to face with the person.

  16. chrissie says:

    Yes it is sad when we see all this abuse and as you say mainly from women, not sure what the root problem either. Good post

  17. Such a well versed post on something very ugly and seemingly unavoidable. I agree with you that generally, people who have their forks posed to strike without consequence are usually reacting out of their own insecurities and fears. It’s important to remember that when perusing the annals of social media outlets. I try to steer clear of the “drama”, but I don’t like to think that the angry, hatefull words are allowed or encouraged without somebody to say, “Whoa, let’s think here!”. 🙂

  18. Christina says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about people’s pain. There is pain and they need to vent that pain, and for some reason, silly things on the internet seem a good place. It is safe. It is not face-to-face, and nearly anonymous. And frankly, some people just love a good drama. And they’ll do what they can to create it. I got into a small argument with someone one time. And I’m glad I did, just that once, because it made me see how fruitless these arguments are. What a waste of time. Never again.

  19. Joy says:

    Yeah, why can’t we all just get along? Or why can’t people live by the principle of not saying anything when you have nothing good to say? I really think some people think they can get away with anything on the internet because of the anonymity it affords us. There’s really a lot of nastiness out here *(and yes, good too!) and this is why we need to be careful with what we say to the Universe. It always loves to challenge us with life lessons, doesn’t it? 😉

  20. People can be so mean and cruel. It’s sad.

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