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Being a Decent Human on the Internet: A Primer

Hello, human! Clearly you are on the Internet, since you moseyed your way over to this blog post. Perhaps you are wondering how to human decently on the Internet. Following is a primer to help you, human, act like one while Internetting.

Basic Tips

To be a decent human on the Internet, there are a few key things you should always keep in mind.

Thing 1: You will encounter people who are different from you in terms of race, gender, age, ability, religion, sexual identity, body type, socioeconomic status, location, etc. These differences do not make the people you encounter non-people. Nor do these difference make these people stupid or evil.

Thing 2: The people you encounter who are different from you will also have different opinions from you. (And the people who are the same as you in terms of [repeat list above] will also have different opinions.) These differing opinions do not make the people you encounter non-people, and nor do these differing opinions make these people stupid or evil.

Thing 3: While on the Internet, you will often encounter people’s words instead of seeing or hearing them speak directly. This indirect communication doesn’t change the fact that you are interacting with another human.

Interacting with People Who Are Different from You

Fellow human, I have something shocking to tell you. It is entirely possible to get along with people who are different from you. It’s true! I’ve done it! There are steps you may follow to help you get along with others.

  1. Listen. Yes, you may disagree with another person. But you know what? You’re more likely to learn something new from someone who is unlike you. Cue ’80s tagline montage: The more you know; knowing is half the battle; knowledge is power. Listen, and maybe learn something that will make you an even more decent human. Listening means:
    • Not assuming your experiences are universal and therefore apply to your conversant.
    • Not assuming the experiences of someone you know/heard of who is somehow like the human with whom you are interacting are universal and therefore apply to your conversant.
    • Not shutting down your conversant if that person says something with which you disagree.
  2. Engage respectfully. Here, “engage” means written and/or audio communication, since the Internet is magic and makes both possible. Engaging respectfully generally means that you, human, keep in mind the Basic Tips, above. But specifics also follow below.
  3. Disengage as needed. There may come a time when you no longer wish to interact with another person. That is okay. The vast amount of time, I assume that no one is forcing you to interact with another person (work or school projects possibly being the exceptions), and so you get to decide when you want to quit. Specifics follow below.

Engaging Respectfully: Specifics

This is, of course, step 2 as noted above. But it’s a large topic to cover in one step. Allow me to break it out into more specifics.

When expressing disagreement, focus on the opinion, not the person. 

Now, you may wish to show your conversant the error of their thinking and sway them to your point of view. This is often a waste of time, because people are disinclined to listen to strangers on the Internet. But if you’re intent on attempting to change the mind of your conversant, remember the following:

  • Calling someone an idiot, stupid, or various epithets is not going to change their mind. It is unhelpful and will probably make your conversant even more resistant to change.
  • Use of phrases such as, “Huh. I did not think of that. That’s interesting. But did you consider X?” is helpful and is more likely to make your conversant amenable to change.

Never, ever, ever, ever threaten someone or their loved ones, pets, etc.

This is serious. It is Not Okay to threaten a fellow human on the Internet, or their family, friends, or pets, with murder, rape, dismemberment, violence, etc. Period.

But Amanda, you might be thinking, I wouldn’t actually DO any of those things. I am just trying to express my severe disagreement with my conversant! I don’t care. Threats are still not okay. Your fellow human on the Internet doesn’t know if you’re joking (and “ha ha just kidding!” doesn’t make it better, either). Because the fact is, there are people out there who do murder, rape, and dismember. Your conversant on the Internet may have encountered such people, such such threats are not abstract to them; the threats are real.

It sounds trite, but really: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say/write it on the Internet.

But Amanda, you might be thinking, they did it first, to someone I care about and/or someone I think is awesome! 

Okay, that’s harder. I have seen those comment threads that make me wish I could reach through my screen and throttle a d-bag. But I still say threats are not okay. Take the high road. Other decent humans will back you because you are being decent in the face of douchebaggery, and decent humans tend to have one another’s backs.

Don’t dox. For all the same reasons as previous.

Disengaging: Specifics

When you encounter indecent humans on the Internet, it is a valid response to disengage. While disengaging, you should again remember the Basic Tips. But remembering the Basic Tips doesn’t mean that you have to do a “soft stop.” Especially if dealing with an indecent human, it is often most effective to employ a hard stop, where you cease all communication immediately without explanation. This may cause the indecent human to claim you were “too [weak, stupid, etc.] to continue the conversation,” but you know what? Forget them. You have better things to do with your time, decent human.

If it is an option, you might also try various blocking methods on social media to mute the indecent human. That way, the indecent human can blahblahdouchebag all they want, and you simply don’t have to hear or read it. Again, there might be cries that you’re “too [weak, stupid, etc.] to respond,” but I think we’ve established, decent human, that you STILL have better things to do with your time. That’s why you muted the indecent human, amirite?

Another option for disengaging is what one might call the “last word” disengagement, where your last response to the indecent human is an explanation of your cessation of communication, a link back to a salient point/rejoinder, or other attempt to leave “on top.” I think, however, that this is less effective. Indecent humans will often view it as a challenge and attempt to reengage you in the argument. It is annoying and exhausting. Don’t attempt it unless you truly don’t have better things to do with your time.

Closing

There you have it, human! A simple primer to behaving like a decent human on the Internet.

If you’re thinking the majority of these were things you were taught in elementary school and/or picked up simply by living among humans, yes, you’re right.

And if you’re thinking that the average comment thread implies a distressingly large percentage of humans on the Internet behave worse than the average grade-schooler, well, unfortunately you’re right there, too.

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