Online Etiquette: When ‘meaning well’ becomes just plain mean.

We’re all guilty of spending too much time online, and with recent events we have more time to spare, alongside yearning for connection or distraction. I’m grateful for the internet, but it has its downsides.

For one, social media contains an outrageous amount of misinformation, often misleading, shared by those more eager to shock than fact-check. It’s tricky to weed out the sensationalised bollocks, tricky but, with a little common sense, easy to do.

The other downside is the incessant trolling, on sites like Twitter, where spiteful people spill their poison with little or no repercussion. I love Twitter, it’s my favourite indulgence, it offers much-needed human interaction, insight into people’s psyche, otherwise unattainable. What’s better than surrounding yourself with like-minded folk? What I find infuriating is the refusal to respect boundaries when interacting online.

We have two prime offenders; the nasties, who get tremendous pleasure causing pain and discomfort. They are distinct, transparent, their aim is clear. No pretence or implied kindness. They wear their troll status like a badge of honour (often accompanied by a flag or two). Less obvious are those who ‘mean well’. They read a post and comment with concern or advice, ignorant to any offence caused. You know the sort. More noticeable when interacting with celebrities, or those validated with a blue-tick. This certified status can make people dizzy with excitement. I know I’m guilty! When someone you admire likes your tweet, or even better, responds, it’s exhilarating.

But where do we draw the line? I say we, because it’s our responsibility to police or at least consider the implications of what we type in those 140 characters or less. The onus isn’t on the person we tweet, regardless of whether they share every detail of their life online. We can’t assume they are inviting criticism or suggestion. Therefore, why do the likes of Jed452635, or LucyLovesDogs ignore all sense of propriety, approach complete strangers to offer abuse, advice or unasked for opinion?

I see lots of this during my copious hours doom-scrolling (don’t judge me!). Yes, some celebrities share a lot online. Whatever their reasons are is none of my business. Yet, these well-meaning “fans” offer unsolicited advice/opinions, cause offence, then when reprimanded are in complete shock. What did they expect? Behave online as you would in real-life (whatever that is). If a comment isn’t acceptable to say in person, do not, I repeat do not say it online. I admit, I’m more confident engaging online than face to face — the joys of social anxiety. However, there’s a notable difference between using confidence to ease interaction and using it to say things you would never say face-to-face.

Imagine going up to strangers commenting on how they look, offering advice on what they should change? Or approaching someone you knew was having a tough time, asking if they’ve considered doing such-and-such? Or, having the nerve to challenge someone who stated they wouldn’t be online, but now they are? You want them to explain and make them feel bad, despite it having sod all to do with you. I witnessed this today, which prompted me to write this piece.

We’ve all made promises, ‘I’ll limit my time online’, ‘Right, no more social media for a month, I need to focus on work/home, whatever’. But imagine strangers monitoring your whimsy proclamations and confronting you to ask why you’ve not upheld them? Butt the hell out people! It’s not your business. These are not party-political broadcasts or manifesto statements (although more people stick to whimsical claims than politicians do to promises); these are hopeful notions we all have, aiming for better but realising ten minutes later how addicted we are. No-one wants thousands of followers calling them out under the guise of concern. Go have a cup of tea, Janet, and ask yourself why you’re online in the first place to notice?

Apologies, I don’t mean to rant. Back to the point; when does meaning well become just plain mean? It happens when your opinion/advice was neither asked for nor do you know the individual well enough to offer it. No matter how much you think you know them, you don’t. Save your opinions and advice for friends and family who can either tell you where to shove it or take it on board.

If in doubt, delete the tweet (before you send). If in doubt, think how you’d react if a stranger interrupted your evening, uninvited, to tell you how to live your life. If in doubt, just think.

~The H Word~

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Wendy Pratt

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