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Dealing With Digital Cruelty - NYTimes.com


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ANYONE who has ever been online has witnessed, or been virtually walloped by, a mean comment.

“If you’re going to be a blogger, if you’re going to tweet stuff, you better develop a tough skin,” said John Suler, a professor of psychology at Rider University who specializes in what he refers to as cyberpsychology. Some 69 percent of adult social media users said they “have seen people being mean and cruel to others on social network sites,” according to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Posts run the gamut from barbs to sadistic antics by trolls who intentionally strive to distress or provoke. Last week, Zelda Williams, the daughter of Robin Williams, said she was going off Twitter, possibly for good, after brutal tweets by trolls about her father’s death. Yet comments do not even have to be that malevolent to be hurtful. The author Anne Rice signed a petition a few months ago asking Amazon.com to ban anonymous reviews after experiencing “personal insults and harassing posts,” as she put it on the site of the petition, Change.org. Whether you’re a celebrity author or a mom with a décor blog, you’re fair game. Anyone with a Twitter account and a mean streak can try to parachute into your psyche.

In the virtual world, anonymity and invisibility help us feel uninhibited. Some people are inspired to behave with greater kindness; others unleash their dark side. Trolls, who some researchers think could be mentally unbalanced, say the kinds of things that do not warrant deep introspection; their singular goal is to elicit pain. But then there are those people whose comments, while nasty, present an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

Trolls going after someone after they die is terrible.

Their singular goal is infliction of pain. That's at the bottom of the unkindness pile.

I wish more people would choose kindness.

69% have witnessed it?  how is that number not 100??

31% of people online are not paying attention.

or do not read comments

Net net that's the same thing. :)

It’s not always possible, of course, to learn something from a nasty comment.

Some are baseless; some are crass. One way to help them roll off you is to consider the writer’s motivation.

Professor Suler wrote in 2004 in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior about a concept known as “the online disinhibition effect” — the idea that “people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world.” In the virtual realm, factors including anonymity, invisibility and lack of authority allow disinhibition to flourish. The result can be benign (“unusual acts of kindness and generosity”), or it can be toxic: “rude language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats,” as Professor Suler put it.

The latter is the realm of trolls. Some people think of their online life “as a kind of game with rules and norms that don’t apply to everyday living,” he wrote, a game for which they do not feel responsible. If bloggers and people who use social networks keep this concept in mind, he said, “they will see the psychology” of aggressors, and their comments may be easier to take — and possibly ignore. Sometimes it’s smart to do as Ms. Williams ultimately did: disconnect.

Harsh comments can also be made to feel less potent by directly disputing to yourself what was said. If, for example, someone writes, “You’re an idiot and no one likes you,” you can marshal evidence against it by reminding yourself, Stuart Smalley-style, of the obvious: You have an education, a job, more friends than you have time to see in a week.

Speaking of time, be mindful of when you choose to glance at your blog or social media feeds. Researchers have discovered that feeling blue or even being in a so-called neutral mood makes people more vulnerable to nasty comments. In other words: Stay off Twitter if you just bombed a presentation.

Another way to stop yourself from dwelling on negative feedback is to enter into what psychologists refer to as “flow,” a state in which the mind is completely engaged. Flow can be achieved when playing a piano concerto, practicing karate, writing code, being deep in conversation with a friend. “The toughest time is when the mind is not fully occupied,” said Professor Pawelski, who also prescribes humor as a way to deflect barbs. He joked that bars would make a killing if at the end of each semester they offered “professor happy hours” where teachers could bring their evaluations and pass the negative ones around. “Nobody should be alone when they’re reading these things,” he said.

Yet even when a person is alone, humor can be effective. Try reading nasty comments aloud in a goofy voice, Professor Pawelski advised, so that when your mind automatically plays back the comment it sounds absurd, or at the very least loses a bit of its bite.

Basically: Don't let the jerks get you down. 

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