One thing I hate about Internet Culture is its”instajudging.” One f’up and everything you’ve ever done is erased as people pile on.
— Peter Sagal (@petersagal) February 25, 2013
Human beings are designed to form quick opinions about each other. Yet no one can deny that the Internet is to judgment what wood is to fire–if the wood was soaked in jet fuel.
There is nothing new or surprising about how folks judge people they’ve never met. We evaluate people all the time based on looks alone. We deduce personality through the tone a person uses when telling stories. Even a joke can shape our thoughts about what somebody must be like to interact with in person.
Yet the Internet has turned snap judgments into nanosnap judgments. Today, people can form more opinions more quickly about more things than ever before. And the annoying thing is that once the Internet has labeled someone, it’s damn near impossible to get it to change its minds. Heaping judgment on someone is easier than one-click ordering on Amazon.
But it shouldn’t be.
I think when people are getting their Internet rage on, they tend to forget that human beings are complex. Just because someone expresses an opinion you disagree with, or posts a photo you find distasteful, shouldn’t automatically make them your mortal enemy for all eternity.
I have a number of friends (mostly conservative ones, but liberals cross my line as well) who post awful things on Facebook. Yet I feel no need to unfriend them for expressing their opinion. If I do anything, I (politely) attack the opinion. I call the opinion bad or shortsighted, not the person who formed it.
Why? Truly horrible people inflict misery on others because they derive some benefit from it. Contempt should be reserved for them, and if folks were willing to invest more than 10 seconds into evaluating people, I think they’d find that truly horrible people are rarer than the Internet leads them to believe.
We all have people in our lives who are seeking a version of peace that we don’t like through means we believe are backwards and unacceptable. A reasonable person, in my opinion, doesn’t pile hate on others because they don’t see eye to eye on education, abortion, immigration, economics, or even fashion.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get into epic verbal sparring matches. Ill-formed opinions should be challenged. But after it’s all over, people should be able to chat about their kids or the latest issue of X-men as if the blood, sweat, and tears leftover from the battle didn’t exist.
Next time you see someone being torn apart by the Internet, don’t reach for the jet fuel right away. Keep the cap on. Think for a minute, think real hard about whether that person truly deserves it. Then post.