TT Epaper
The Telegraph
Graphiti
 
IN TODAY'S PAPER
WEEKLY FEATURES
CITIES AND REGIONS
ARCHIVES
Since 1st March, 1999
 
THE TELEGRAPH
 
 
CIMA Gallary
Email This Page
The harmful power of words
social media

Hi, Julia: I own four tarantulas (yes, big fuzzy spiders), including a baby just about a year old.

Since I didn’t know a whole lot about owning giant spiders, I joined an online community devoted to them. For the most part, everyone has been super nice and willing to share their extensive knowledge with a newbie.

In the tarantula world, it’s a Big Deal when they molt. So I posted, in the proper place, a quickie about my baby spider molting.

One of the old-timers replied to my post, saying, “Sheesh, why does everyone always post when their T’s molt? They’re spiders; they molt. Get over yourselves.” I was stunned. I simply wanted to share my joy and here comes this jerk, being mean.

I have plenty of social experience, but I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this. Luckily, some other members beat me to the punch and replied to Mr Jerky, “Take it easy! It IS exciting when we have a molt in our community!” and he apologised.

But if no one had to come to my defence, what should I have done? — Amy C.

Dear Amy: I hate to say it, but you’re not alone in feeling confused and hurt by a comment someone made to you online. Internet communication is notorious for experiences just like the one you describe — and some that are much worse, unfortunately.

Easy anonymity emboldens latent bullies and allows people who ordinarily wouldn’t dream of hurting others to wildly underestimate — or ignore entirely — the harmful power of their words. When you don’t have to actually see the pain on another person’s face, it’s exponentially easier to pretend what you’re saying doesn’t have any real impact. Of course, as anyone who has been on the receiving end of these comments knows, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Typical responses to negativity online include: anger, self-deprecation, detachment, reasoning, getting others to stand up for you, laughing, or crying about the situation. Having been in your position, I know it’s tough not to respond defensively, with anger or, frequently in my case, with tears. However, never in the history of misunderstandings — online or otherwise — has a defensive, angry retort actually helped the situation.

I asked Dr Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, how to best handle situations like yours. The most common mistake? “Personalising the insult,” Lombardo explains. “They think ‘I’m wrong, I shouldn’t have said that, I’m worthless, I’m inferior, I’m no good.’ ” This launches a downward spiral of what she calls “distorted thinking”.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, you should realise that the negative comment, while technically directed at you, isn’t about you at all. “We know it has nothing to do with you as a person,” says Lombardo, “because they don’t know you as a person.”

Whether it’s a passive-aggressive jab or a full-out ad hominem attack, those who insult others online are projecting their insecurities, jealousies, bad days or just general grumpiness onto you. “When people aren’t happy themselves, they lash out at others. They’re kicking the dog,” Lombardo says, “but they aren’t aware of how painful that is for the dog until the dog talks back.”

My advice is to keep your response calm and polite. Being snarky is in vogue, but being earnest is much more effective. You might have replied with something like, “I was just chiming in with progress reports like everyone else. All our babies are beautiful.”

In a new world largely unregulated by social structure, it’s important that we enforce norms of respect and courtesy. In your case, others stood up for you — good for them. If we want happy, safe, courteous online communities, we all need to stand up for one another.

No matter whose tarantula is molting.

Dear Julia: Isn’t social media just a fad? — Matt

Dear Matt: Facebook boasts over 600 million users, Twitter 200 million and LinkedIn 100 million. Users spend 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month, Twitter disseminates 65 million tweets daily, and 80 per cent of companies use LinkedIn to recruit. So, if you consider TV, cellphones, cars and electricity to be fads, then sure, social media is a fad.

Top
Email This Page