Fighting online social rudeness

As I wander this electronic world, I often stop to read the comments.  It’s like smelling the roses, only a lot less fragrant.  From roller coasters to hockey to politics, the comments provide an interesting spectrum of opinion.  Sometimes, even facts.  But all too often, they’re just distressingly rude.  Obnoxious, and all-too-often, anonymous.

I dug around a little online, and I came across an article by Adam Hanft on that really caught my attention.  He described how distance, anonymity, and lack of consequences can breed poor social behavior online.  Hanft provided an example when he wrote, “We see it [bad behavior] on blogs, where vicious comments are posted by cowards who hide behind the cloak of anonymity.”  What a great line, and depressingly true.  (Fortunately though, that is not the case on this blog right now.)

Now it’s no surprise to us that people can be rude.  Whether it’s in-person or online, rudeness pervades our society.  It’s no surprise to me that topics like political discussions bring heat, passion and ugly personal attacks.  Just look at politicians’ behavior to see where that comes from.  However, it does surprise me that even the most benign topics can attract ugly behavior.

So, how do we fix it?  Hanft provided a couple of interesting ideas.  He suggested that technological tools could be employed to delay sending e-mails for a short period of time, or even a “pop-up message” that would discourage the use of expletives.  Great ideas, but I think they only solve the symptom… not the problem.

Really it’s quite simple.  I’m probably preaching to the choir right now, but our online society needs a lesson in politeness.  Do we remember learning about magic words?  You know:  please, thank-you, you’re welcome, etc. My wife and I are teaching them to our kids.  It’s a good reminder to us, too.  It’s not a bad idea to remember that old adage to “think before you speak.”  We should probably update that to say, “think, take a deep breath, and re-read before hitting the send/post button.”  We should also remember that we do not need to take everything so personally.

And now the reality.  I’m not perfect when it comes to social behavior. [Gasp.]  I guarantee that this blog will be critical at times.  There is a fine line between criticism and rudeness.  I strive to be critical of policies, behavior and actions, not individuals.  However, sometimes it is hard to separate the individual from the rest of the list.  Therefore, I fully expect that I may offend somebody, sometime.  So feel free to let me know if I overstep a line.  I may not agree, but I’ll do my best to engage in a polite discussion.

Now if we could just get our political leaders to do the same…

Please stop laughing.

Leave a comment


  1. springtimesoul

     /  June 14, 2010

    A a new rule from the updtaed Mom Handbook: never post / send anything electronically that you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper headlines with your name attached (what will Mom do for the next Handbook revision when newspapers no longer exist?)

  2. Newspapers exist?

  3. Great post Wade. I agree with all that was said. Wasn’t it Lincoln who would write all of his nasty letters when he was angry and never mail them? I also think that social media is devoid of facial expression, body language, tone of voice and all of the other clues that let us know how the person is truly feeling. That said, sometimes sarcasim can be perceived where none is intended. Sometimes, people will add smileys and nice salutations, not because they are overly enthusiastic, but as a way to prevent that misunderstanding from happening.

    • Alicia, I didn’t remember that trait of Lincoln’s. It’s a good practice. And you make excellent points about the lack of those nonverbal communications in the online environment. It’s one more reason to take a step back and ensure that the written words convey your thoughts accurately. 🙂


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