Anything you say in public can come back to haunt you – anything you say online can be a yell in an avalanche zone. Right now there’s a lot of yelling going on and stuff I care about is getting buried under several tons of high-speed, noisy, brain-freezing verbiage.
Seriously. Everyone? On all sides of any argument – before you say anything online, ever? I’m begging you. Please just think.
I am not directing this at any person in particular, but at everyone who comments online. Because whatever the discussion, it’s so easy just to add to the noise, the anger, the choking, obscuring smoke.
Whether you’re posting or replying, please, just think. Are you clarifying the argument, or making a valid point that people may not have considered, or introducing new information? Or are you just snarling? Do you have evidence of the thing you’re about to say? Can you back up your claim? Or did you hear it from someone in a pub or read it somewhere not known for rigorous journalistic fact-checking? Are you making a considered response to something, a response that has even a slight chance of moving things forward or increasing understanding, or are you snapping at people because you’re angry and hurt?
This applies to me too, of course. I’ve made the occasional utterly thoughtless remark. I’ve been snippy and rude and self-pitying and (I hope, mainly unintentionally) cruel, both online and off, especially in the heat of the moment. I’m trying to stop. Because that stuff has consequences, and those consequences don’t just affect me.
I’m not saying, ‘Always be nice, never be controversial, never be angry;’ certainly not – I am often vocally angry, I am probably occasionally controversial, I am certainly not always nice. Sometimes it is necessary to yell, just to get people to pay attention.
It’s not always easy to yell with point and clarity. Sometimes people say things that are really painful, nasty, incomprehensible, rage-inducingly stupid – and sometimes, like now, I’m having a crappy day and just want to take a chunk out of someone because I am dealing with people and things that have that effect on me.
I am saying please try to choose your targets and consider what you want to say, and why, and in what way you want to say it. Consider the fact that what you’re about to say may have effects, and not just on the person you’re addressing directly. Think about the fact that thousands of people may see your remarks – and keep in mind that it may be the first time some of those people have ever heard of the thing you’re posting about, and it may be the first time they’ve ever heard of you, too. That’s your introduction; that’s who they’ll think you are.
Thought about those things? Then post.
It can’t be that hard, dammit. We’re a fairly bright bunch, we humans, or we wouldn’t have an internet on which to snipe at each other. We can think about a lot of things in a few seconds.
So please. A pause. A few seconds of thought that may, just possibly, help drag any discussion a few millimetres closer to productive discourse – or at least stop it getting any worse.