There’s a trend on social media that’s being talked about a lot lately: How awful people can be to each other.
I know a lot of it has something to do with the anonymity that comes with screen names and avatars, and there’s this self-righteous buzz that comes from “setting someone in their place” or calling someone out for what you perceive is incorrect. Monica Lewinsky addresses the social media meanness in her TED talk (which you should go watch if you haven't already.)
Just this week on Facebook, one acquaintance talked about the ugly emails she’d received after a guest post she wrote for a popular online blogging site. Things no one would dare say to her face if she were there and things that should never be written.
Another woman talked about how she shaved her head—a bucket list item she had. After posting a picture of herself, she received so many hurtful, hateful emails that she ended up deleting her inbox without reading the rest of them.
What is going on?
Are we not allowed to have opinions, live our lives the way we want, look the way we want, or express our beliefs without hatred being flung at us?
A few months ago on Twitter I posted about how I came across a rattle snake on my morning walk. I had all of my kids with me and was nervous that it might strike at us. Rattle snakes are common in the desert, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing them. We skirted around it carefully and continued down the nature trail. On the way back home a man told us that he had killed the snake because it was on a very commonly used path—especially by kids walking home from the elementary school not too far away.
After I posed about it on Twitter, I was attacked by the snake-loving community (they exist). They told me I was a horrible person, that I didn’t deserve to live, that I should have my head cut off like the snake's. They called me names and wrote many other horrible things that really upset me. Dozens more people came up out of nowhere, sending me awful tweets and tagging each other so more could join in.
I made the mistake of engaging, first by apologizing for offending them, and then by justifying my feelings of relief that the snake was dead. MISTAKE. Things only escalated from there, and I ended up blocking all of the attackers and deleting the post. The whole thing blew me away and turned me off of Twitter for months. I’m still a little nervous when I post on there. (I hate that I gave them that power, by the way.)
My plea for today is that we all be a little bit kinder. It's not your place to offer your opinion on every life decision someone makes. It is not your place to arrogantly assume that your hateful comments are relevant. And it is definitely not your place to tear someone down.
Where is the value in that? In trashing someone’s day, disparaging their character, and making them feel bad about themselves. It's too common now to take a complex, multi-dimensional person and boil them down to one characteristic that gets picked out from one tweet, one picture, one blog post and then branded to their chest like a scarlet A they have to wear around for the rest of their life.
These commenters feel like they’ve done something powerful. That they’ve made a difference, when in reality, all they’ve done is added more hate to the ever-growing pit of hate that people seem to love swimming around in.
Want to know where REAL power is?
It’s love and kindness.
So my challenge for us all is to be a little bit kinder today than you were yesterday. Respond with love, not judgement, not hate, not trying to push someone down or prove that you’re right.
Words are powerful. Let’s use them for good. Let’s make them meaningful.
And maybe together we can start a new trend.