How To Become an Upstanding Internet Citizen

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the trenches of the Internet. Against all my good sense, I often find myself on forums, message boards, and in the torrid zone: comment sections. While certain websites have excellent communities, others have become a breeding ground for hatred, ignorance, and more generalized stupidity.

But I love it! It gets me all fired up! I can’t help myself! I’ve fallen into the butthole of the Internet!

I do realize that this behavior can be bad for my mental health. If you too find yourself in this trap, and cannot give up it up cold turkey, you can take steps to become an Upstanding Internet Citizen. We’re in this together, guys!

Lets start with three rules of general truthiness:

  1. It’s Okay to Be Wrong – If someone catches you in a falsehood, rather than getting defensive, say: “You’re right. I didn’t know that.” It’s okay! I promise you will remain a manly man, or a womanly woman, as it were.
  2. It’s Okay to Be Right – Just don’t gloat about it. Don’t be condescending and talk down to people. Don’t revel in your rightness. It’s horribly immature and will weaken whatever point you’re trying to make. 
  3. It’s Okay to Disagree – I mean, this is obvious, right? In life, as it is online, sometimes people disagree on things. We can have intelligent discussions where no one comes out the “victor.” Lets not be dumb babies about it, okay?

Becoming an Upstanding Internet Citizen, next steps:

How To Become an Upstanding Internet Citizen | imshayshay.blogspot.com
Indi Samarajiva/indi.ca on Flickr (CC 2.0)

1) Get to know and respect the community.

Don’t just show up on some forum and start throwing a tantrum. Get a lay for the land first by finding out if there are any rules for commenting/posting and what those rules are. You should also get a feeling for the kind of people that are on these sites; a forum full of moms and grandmas might take your dirty sailor mouth the wrong way.

2) Don’t be a reactionary Internet asshole.

I know what it feels like to write something online and have someone call you out in a negative way or worse, completely misunderstand what you’ve written and rip you apart anyway. I get a familiar rush of blood to my cheeks and feel my heart start to pump. “Did that person just INSULT me? I think that person just INSULTED ME?? HOW DARE THEY! I’m going to make them pay with WORDS.”

Before you give in to knee-jerk reactions, take a step back and re-read what that person wrote a few times. You might be interpreting it the wrong way, you dumb baby. If you are CONVINCED that this person is attacking you and yours, take a breather, and disengage for a bit. If you still want to respond to this person after taking a break, at least try to leave a constructive, intelligent comment that could add to whatever the original subject you were discussing in the first place. You could even glaze over the comment, and start fresh with a tried and true “Back on topic…” and restart the conversation. Better yet, throw in a non-sequitur fart joke and call it a day.

3) Don’t call someone out on a stupid spelling or grammatical error. 

I’ve been guilty of doing this before and it was far less satisfying than I thought it would be.  Don’t hit below the belt either; if you’re engaging with some kind of angry Internet person, don’t call them out on using “your” instead of “you’re.” It’s a dumb, very obvious thing that everyone just loves to point out. You’re better than that.

4) Proofread. 

Whether you’re writing a forum post or a novel, the importance of proofreading is paramount. When writing online in any kind of community setting, you have to make doubly sure that you’re not coming across as an awful, awful person. Imagine when you’re writing that you’re talking to a friend that you really respect. If your own words are making you recoil, then you’re doing it wrong.

5) Don’t feed the trolls.

This last one is obvious, but it deserves a mention regardless. Some attention-obsessed people love to frequent comment sections and forums with the sole purpose of stirring up trouble. It's how they get their jollies. They will post purposefully inflammatory things to get other people purposefully inflamed. Ignore these inflaming people. If it helps, try to imagine that said troll is quite literally "getting their jollies" (wink wink) while writing to you and reading the enraged responses. You'll probably be so disgusted that you'll want to leave your computer completely.

True story: 

A few months ago, on a message board I frequent, I noticed that a new member had popped up in each of the every forum on the site. Let’s pretend that this message board is all about the fictitious field of “wroggling.”

So, this guy was prolifically commenting everywhere and creating new threads, all while being a completely hubristic jerk. He admitted that he had only entered the wroggling field a few weeks before, but he was convinced that he would become the BEST wroggler in the business within a year. His understanding of wroggling and what it takes to be a professional wroggler was woefully incorrect. It was some of the most aggressively ignorant forum posting I’ve ever seen. All attempts by other users to give advice were met with a “YOU’RE WRONG” or a “Who are you to be giving me advice? How long have YOU been a professional wroggler??” It got to the point where just about all regulars on the forum had either responded to this guy or were crying “troll.”

Being the daring little Internet sleuth that I am, I decided to dig a little and find out who this guy was. I did a reverse Google image search of a photo that he had posted of himself and I found it in another completely unrelated forum, attached to an identical screen name. The forum was for people with Aspergers.

No one on our message board had any way of knowing about this guy’s condition. He got called an idiot and he was ripped apart all while working up the other members into a hot lather and it was all because this guy had a condition affects the way he interacts with other people.

It’s rare that you’ll actually know the people you’re talking to online. The angry, negative people you interact with could have some kind of behavioral problem, they could be dealing with a major life trauma, maybe they’re having a really bad day, they could be some kind of werewolf or Philip Seymour Hoffman. MAYBE this anonymous Internet person actually is just a huge jerk. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt, even anonymous Internet people. Regardless, I always try to remember that my dumb Internet comments probably aren’t going to change anyone else’s dumb minds.

How To Become an Upstanding Internet Citizen | Crappy Candle
Original Photo By: Indi Samarajiva/indi.ca on Flickr (CC 2.0)
Graphics By: Shay Lorseyedi for crappycandle.com

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