This was a comment on my Facebook fan page. “That” referred to a tip I’d recently posted. Apparently, the feature I was discussing (an option to disable auto-play video) either hadn’t yet been made available in the commenter’s account or they couldn’t find it.
And apparently, I was at fault for trying to be helpful.
Now, I get this kind of thing from time to time; more often than you see. Abusive questions are ignored and inappropriate comments are deleted. In fact, the poster of this comment apparently thought twice about leaving it up. Shortly after I replied, “A personal attack? Wow,” his comment disappeared.
But it got me to thinking … is the internet turning more people into jerks?
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
The internet is a playground for jerks
Of course, I’m using the term “jerk” as a semi-family-friendly catch-all for any number of descriptive and sometimes colorful descriptive words. I’m sure that you can think of a few … I know I did. Feel free to replace “jerk” with whatever term comes to mind. 🙂
In my opinion, the internet hasn’t created as many jerks as it’s simply unleashed or uncovered.
There have always been jerks, certainly well before the internet and probably well before civilization. I’m certain there have always been plenty of people with a serious lack of respect for others. Heck, there was probably some caveman who pointed a finger and yelled, “Zug Zug!”1 when his hunting buddy tripped over a rock and impaled himself on his spear.
That caveman lives on today in internet forums, Facebook, email discussions, and web page comments.
It’s not new. It’s nothing special. It’s just that jerks have a much larger playground on which to be jerks these days.
More people see ’em
And yet, it seems like there’s more.
One of the reasons is that we’re exposed to more of them than ever before.
That playground that is the internet not only gives jerks a place to be jerks, but it gives them something else: an audience. A huge audience. And many jerks thrive on that. It encourages their behavior.
And we, as that audience, simply see more people being jerks than ever before. Not because there are more of them, but because we now have the opportunity to see more of them.
In the past, for example, jerks might have been filtered out by newspaper or magazine editors, or they just didn’t have the opportunity to express their jerkiness to the world. Today, everyone’s a publisher, everyone’s a critic, and anyone can pretty must post whatever they like almost wherever they like without negative consequences and often quite anonymously.
There aren’t that many more jerks. We’re just seeing more of the ones that have always been around.
Jerks of a feather
Now, I can’t absolutely say that the internet isn’t actually creating more jerks. I want to believe that it isn’t, but there’s something else that could be happening as well.
People see other people being jerks on the internet and getting away with it. So they start acting like jerks themselves.
It’s tempting to say, “…and thus, another jerk is born.” While that’s certainly possible, I think things go deeper than that. I think rather than having created a jerk, the internet has instead exposed or magnified one that was kind of there all along. Perhaps seeing other people acting like jerks allows someone’s pre-existing inner jerk come out.
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s some of both.
Don’t let the jerks get you down
Because we’re being exposed to so much more jerky behavior, it would be easy to lose faith.
I know reading comments on YouTube or on any political, religious, or otherwise contentious topic can really make you start to wonder about humanity in general and whether we even deserve to live on this planet. Regardless of where they come from or how long they’ve been around, there are most assuredly jerks out there.
But you know what? There are awesome people, too. In fact, there are way more awesome people than there are jerks.
What I see much more often than jerks are people who are grateful, people who are respectful, people who are helping one another, and people who can disagree on topics without resorting to acting like my example caveman. And I see them in my inbox, in my comments, on Facebook, and everywhere else.
Like what I call “the bad news problem,”2 jerks get the headlines. But in reality, however many there are, they’re in the minority.
Don’t be a jerk, don’t feed the jerks
Of course, I probably don’t have to tell you to not be a jerk and to treat everyone with respect.
You already know that behind every comment, behind every post, and behind every question is a real live human being with problems, struggles, and issues just like you and me.
They deserve our respect.
What I do think is important to mention is what not to do when you encounter a jerk.
Don’t be a jerk in response. That’ll only encourage ’em. Don’t feed the jerk.
I go either of two ways (and I recommend you do the same): the vast majority I simply ignore. As I own a platform on which they sometimes appear, I make them go away (deleting comments and whatnot) and do so with very little regret.
Sometimes, as with our Facebook friend above, I’ll call ’em on it. Not in an abusive way (however tempted I might be), but in a way that perhaps reminds them that there’s a real live human being to whom they’re “speaking.”
Sometimes, a reminder is all they need.
And sometimes, it’s we who need the reminder that while there may be jerks out there, there’s way more awesomeness if you just keep your eyes open and watch for it.