Aaron Tang writes the rules for virtual relationships.
“Your methodology sucks … lame, no logic… I can write an article ten times better than you … I await your reply…”
That’s how I remember the first troll comment I ever received.
I thought I could brush it off, but I failed miserably. My hands were shaking as I emailed the commenter back. And went crying for support in my writers Facebook group.
The Internet can be a very hurtful place. I found out firsthand above, but anyone who’s ever been in a heated “discussion” online knows the same.
But why does it hurt so bad, if online relationships aren’t real? (and by relationships here, I mean all interactions between people, not just romantic relationships). Unless of course, they are. Which is what I believe: Relationships online are very real.
Your interactions online reflect your relationships in the real world.
People Can Be Really Mean, Online and Offline
But wait! We all know how people behave terribly on the Internet. Even good people. They write things they would never dare to say in person.
“Are you saying that everyone is secretly an asshole?”
But I will say that there’s asshole-ish tendencies in every single one of us. And for every positive comment I’ve ever made, there’s been a lot of angry, hateful ones that I’ve suppressed. The good people among us aren’t perfect. They struggle with bad thoughts too, but the difference is: they know how to dismiss them, and choose to think good ones instead.
The less cultured ones among us don’t do this. Neither do they censor themselves online. They write exactly what they’re thinking; be it sexist, racist, or prejudiced. The sad thing is not only have they allowed evil to get the better of them, it’s that they’re spreading it to other people too.
What do we do? Maybe we can start by understanding what the Internet really is: Not a collection of pictures and words on a computer screen, but a network of real people with real feelings.
There’s a Real Person Behind Every Screen
I never understood this before I started writing on the Internet.
I looked at the Internet as a mass dumping ground of information that I could get for free. Yay.
But then I started to speak to it. I started to write to people online. And to my astonishment, many wrote back!
Online interactions work just like real-world interactions. Just that the Internet allows us to connect instantly to billions of people who would otherwise have been out of reach.
If you’re ever tempted to make a negative comment online, remember that there’s some real flesh and blood on the other end. Argue, disagree, and criticize if you must—but there’s no reason to be nasty. You could easily make or destroy someone’s day. Or life.
Here’s a beautiful visual reminder of the above paragraph, which I found on Buzzfeed:
On the other hand, knowing how there’s real people behind every screen has some cool benefits. Prime example: you can easily contact someone you would like to meet. It could be that politician you admire. Or that entrepreneur you read about. Or your favorite author. Famous or non-famous, almost everyone is reachable on the Internet today.
If you’ve never done this before, I encourage you to try it. If you have something valuable to say, you’ll be surprised at how many people actually write back.
How To Make Friends Online
Notice how I said something “valuable” in the paragraph above. I didn’t say that if you tweet “Hi” to every Internet celebrity they’ll send you an autographed copy of their latest album.
But maybe you have a creation that will help companies. This guy cold-emailed dozens of prospective customers while developing his million-dollar software. Many of them wrote back. Even Mark Cuban.
Maybe you have some advice that will help a well-known blogger.
Or some words of encouragement for a stranger who’s writing depressed notes on Facebook.
The key point is—if you have something valuable (and all of us do)—make contact and offer it for free to the person you’re trying to be friends with. Genuinely try to help them. That’s the way to build relationships on the Internet.
Just like in the real world.
You Won’t Get Along With Everyone, But That’s OK
This morning, I received my latest nasty comment:
“Total waste of time reading your blog. Too long-winded. Beating around the bush. Uninteresting sentence structures. Typical grandmother’s stories. No substance. Shallow. Not coming back, ever. You’re welcome.”
I found it interesting, because I couldn’t tell if it was a personal attack or genuine feedback. Or a combination of both. Plus the comment had no grammatical errors, suggesting it was from someone well-educated.
There’s a lot of truth in the comment too. I’m a fan of long-form content, which is why I often drone on for more than two thousand words. I also like using really simple sentences. It’s the way I was taught. And my best friends tell me I’m shallow all the time.
But as I mused about the comment and how it made me feel, I decided to see it in the context of how the Internet reflects real life: This wasn’t about trolling. It wasn’t about me getting butthurt from negative comments, despite always asking readers to write to me.
It was just two people who have very different perspectives in life. Like attracts like and unlike repels unlike. Every day we consciously or subconsciously filter out people who don’t make a good fit in our lives.
And just like how two people who wouldn’t enjoy having a drink together shouldn’t waste their time doing it, I’m actually kinda glad the guy above is never coming back.
Originally published on mr-stingy.com.
Photo—anieto2k at Flickr