How to avoid negativity online (and make sure you're not part of it)

24 FEB 2016 0

You've probably already noticed, but people can be jerks on the internet. Just downright mean and nasty. It doesn't matter what you do, whether your posting a blog for your business, sharing a few vacation photos on Facebook, or talking about a movie you saw on Twitter, there's always someone out there ready to slide into the comments or conversation and spread a little venom. It can be infuriating. 

It used to bring out the absolute worst in me. "This guy's a jerk” I'd say to myself, teeth clenched, fingers poised over the keyboard ready to let loose with a devastating reply "and I'm going to tell 'em exactly what I think of him” and boy would I. It makes me sad now to think of how many evenings I flushed down the tube, trying to convince some completely inconsequential person I never met, would never meet, and in the end would totally forget, about just how wrong he was and how right I was. What a pathetic waste.

I've learned over the years how to be a much more gracious, calm, and understanding individual - and it's improved my life immensely. A big part of that transformation was learning how to take a little advice. Despite being written in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is still absolutely spot on about the futility of trying to convince someone else they're wrong and you're right. While even just a few years ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea of taking anything a "self-help” book had to say at heart, I have to admit, ol' Dale might have been on to something.

The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it

It's impossible to really win an argument, you can only lose them in creative ways. Think about any time you have waded into the comment section of a form or a particularly heated Twitter conversation. Have you ever thought it was a worthwhile use of your time in the end?  At best you proved your point, browbeat someone into submission, and created a spectacle of yourself while earning the grudging acquiescence (and eternal resentment) of your opponent. At worst, nobody budges from their positions, they just escalate their points with even more aggressive posturing, extended full-cap tirades, and increasingly elaborate profanities. What good is that doing your mental state? How can any of that pay off with any satisfaction? It can't.

It's like the WOPR supercomputer said about nuclear war, "the only way to win is not to play.”

What if someone is really, totally wrong?

So what?

I get it, some people just have their heads screwed on backwards and it can be hard not to mention it. What I'd advise is really pondering if pointing out their error or mistaken belief is truly necessary before typing. Calling someone out for their mistake in front of other people is never going to be seen as helpful or earnest. No matter how right you are, and how wrong they are, you're only going to make that person resent you (and you can bet they'll be sharpening the knife, just waiting for the day you make a mistake they can pounce on).

A lot of the time when people point out mistakes, they're not motivated by a genuine urge to be helpful or striving for some kind of academic accuracy in every conversation, they do it because they want to show they knew better. Because they want to feel smart. I'm not speaking hypothetically here either, I used to be a serial offender when it came to interrupting people with "don't you mean?” or "actually...” in some misguided effort to impress someone else. It's a short-lived moment of smugness that lets everyone else know how petty and miserable you really are.

How can we do better?

There's one other gem of Dale's that has always stuck with me – "be hearty in your approbation and lavish with your praise.” Translated from 1930's speak, it means to be generous with your approval and appreciation. As humans we're wired to be much more assertive and vocal when we feel we've been wronged, or see a mistake we can jump on. You might not have heard of Cunningham’s law, but I promise you've seen its results in action - "The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it's to post the wrong answer." 

But when it comes to expressing our appreciation or enjoyment of something, many of us are much more slow on the draw, much more stingy. When you take this natural human tendency and apply it to the internet however, where every voice and opinion is amplified and exaggerated, it means that most conversations and comment sections turn into dumpster fires. Even if a post is well loved by hundreds of people, the only comments that will show up are the ten or so jerks who just had to get their licks in. 

Next time you see something you like or think is cool, why not take five seconds to say so? Put in a positive word, elevate the conversation a little. Let other people know that their work, or their Instagram, or joke is appreciated. It doesn't cost you anything, but it will be worth gold to the person on the receiving end. 

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