In this brave new world of too much online communication vs. face-to-face human contact, it seems many have all but lost their good manners. And even people who respect the “do unto others” in their day-to-day lives can become, well, raving maniacs in forums where they think they’re assured anonymity. Physics has gone awry – actions don’t produce equal reactions, but outrageous overreactions!
I’m talking about what I not-so-fondly refer to as “e-hate.” It used to be relegated to those snarky threads of “reply all” emails, but lately I’ve seen just as much venom spouted in online forums, or even blog comments. “E-hate” still covers it though, an all-encompassing electronic hate spurred on by irrational reactions to rational words. Here’s how it typically works:
- Person A makes a statement about a product or service or issue.
- Person B disagrees, but rather than rational discourse, responds with a snarky comment or an obvious overreaction.
- Person A either 1) takes the high road and tries to rephrase in objective terms or 2) takes offense and responds emotionally.
- Person B takes a huge leap in logic for their next response, usually accompanied by outrageous personal attacks on the original author…
- And (my personal favorite) Persons C, D, E join in the lynching, often clueless to where the original discourse even began. (At which point Person A usually becomes hyper-sensitive and defensive, and no wonder, when a single growling mutt has become a bloodthirsty pack of jackals!)
- A toxic eruption of epic proportions ensues, typically reducing otherwise rational adults to hysterical children, complete with gross exaggerations, flagrant rudeness, even name-calling.
Online overreaction has become epidemic, and it’s downright dangerous, both for our reputations and our sanity. Think about throwing a pebble into a pond – it makes a tiny ripple. A bigger rock makes a bigger ripple. A plus-size asteroid may cause a tidal wave. In the world of facts and physics, you can’t cause a tidal wave by tossing a pebble, yet folks seem to be doing just that when they overreact in online threads.
My guess is it happens so often because it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for writers whose imaginations are already working overtime. And because these “conversations” take place in writing, there’s no one to interrupt our thought process and stop us with a “Huh? You just took a serious left turn there, honey!”
I can’t stop e-hate; neither can you. But hopefully these five tips will come in handy and prevent you from being pelted by too many virtual rotten tomatoes!
- React, Don’t Overreact. As in, “Hmm… that’s one view, but I wonder if anyone’s considered this…” Asking a question vs. making a declaration is a great way to go in soft yet still lay the issue on the table for consideration. BUT – if your rational response still produces irrational blowback, walk away.
- Count to Ten. Before you dash off a vehement, half-baked bitch fest to an issue you feel strongly about (no matter how right you may be) take a minute, or an hour, or better yet, 24 hours. Regain your perspective. But if after that they haven’t regained theirs, “Surrender, Dorothy!”
- Recognize the Irrational. The moment you see the overreaction, the leap in logic, the name-calling or character assassination from one or more in the group, remove yourself from the discussion. You won’t win; no amount of logic can cut through the murky haze of clouded judgment.
- Know We’re all Human. That means egos are at play, as are bad days. Or, as the regular author of this blog says, “People forget there’s a human being on the other end of the line.” And if you’re having one of those days yourself, don’t engage!
- Protect Your Time. Your time is valuable; don’t squander it on people you don’t even know. I’ve seen the toxic comments of moderators on forums who, by the sheer volume of their body of work must spend hours and hours crafting sheer nonsense. But, like four-alarm fires, they can only continue to rage out of control and torch everything in their path if they have oxygen… in the form of you.
What do all five tips have in common? Removing yourself from the shooting gallery, the raging flames, the firing squad, whatever you want to call the thread gone mad. Do it for your own self-protection! You’ll feel better, you’ll feel better about yourself not being reduced to their irrational behavior, and you can go do something productive with your time… all the while grinning with the knowledge that they don’t seem to have anything productive to do with theirs…