Commentator Bridget Callahan is new to WHQR; this is her first commentary. Bridget is a writer and comedian, an editor for The Tusk magazine, and an entertainment correspondent for Star News. She makes her home in Wilmington.
The internet brings out the worst in all of us. Even if you think you are careful, you’re one of the good ones, you’re not one of the evil trolls, it’ll still get you. On facebook the other day my friend posted “I wonder if I know anyone with Yaumacon contacts.” And my first gut reaction was to comment “I wonder if you know anyone who actually knows what Yaumacon is.” Haha. I’m so clever.
Only here’s the thing, my friend is in a touring band, and he’s a nerd and he knows lots of other musicians and nerds, and so probably to a good portion of his friends list, that’s not a funny question, because they probably actually know what Yaumacon is. It could be a festival, or a venue, or an agency, or a studio, or it could be the Detroit Anime and Gaming Convention, which is what it actually is.
But how dare he talk about something I know nothing about, right? How dare he speak to anything but my own particular knowledge base, and there I am assuming that if I’m having this reaction, all the rest of his friends will as well, and boom, here comes the sarcastic, condescending comment, waiting for the likes.
We thought the internet was a place to finally be ourselves, but it turns out, our true selves aren’t into the benefit of the doubt, or awareness of others. We thought social courtesies online didn’t apply, but we need them more than ever. None of us are immune, and if the internet is to be anything but a seething nightmare pit of a world, we need to codify online politeness into our daily lives. We need to enforce it with the strength of a Victorian grandmother. We need to not tolerate the breaking of the code of basic decency, in others or ourselves, online or in person, and really there is no difference between the two now.
Once upon a time, the telephone was brand new, and no one knew the rules, about when to call and when to not, what you could say over the phone and what was rude or cruel. That’s where the internet is, right now, waiting to see what’s allowed or not.
To that End, here are a few suggested rules to live by online:
Before saying something, put yourself in context: how do you know this person? Are you the audience they are speaking to, really? How will they react to what you want to say?
Does what you’re about to say actually matter: Does it educate or entertain? Is it something the person might already know? Is it just a repetition of someone else?
Never tag someone in a post, unless you are promoting them. In all other cases, tag them in a comment.
If your comment is entertainment, is it at the expense of someone else? Do you really mean it? Would you say it to their face?
What this all equates to is essentially, Think Before You Speak. But that’s a basic rule of human civilization I think we all need to be reminded of right now. Even when it seems as small a thing as a snarky little barb. Snarky little barbs are indicators of darker things.