Is it just me, or is everyone online way meaner than they used to be?
And by “used to be,” I don’t mean 14 years ago, when I was noodling around on dial-up, looking at sites that mostly consisted of marching ants and Star Trek references. I mean, like, two or three years ago.
I ask, because I’ve noticed that most of my favorite time-wasting sites — Jezebel, NYMag, etc. — have developed absolutely brutal comment sections. Whereas a few years ago, the comments on most culture sites were supportive and thoughtful at best and dumb and attention-grabbing at worst, now the majority of internet commentary seems geared toward one thing, and one thing only: Making everyone else feel like a fat kid in eighth grade who’s just discovered that his mom’s bra is static-clung to his shirt.
Before you jump to any conclusions, let me assure you that my irritation isn’t hurt feelings. By and large, I don’t comment on sites. I tend to post articles on my Facebook if I need to say anything about them. I only really care what my friends think about a given article or post.
But honestly, of course, there’s also the fact that I’m not immune to criticism. I stopped reading comments on my own online articles a few months ago, when someone posted simply, “Oh, honey, no” on a column of mine. For some reason, this peeved me way more than a longer, more critical attack. It’s so easy to be dismissive, while you’re not actually making anything yourself. The part of me that secretly still thinks life should be fair finds it offensive that a person can, with a click and few keystrokes, throw fruit at someone else’s hard work. I think I’d be cool with it if it took as much effort to post a comment as it did to write a piece. I recognize that this marks me as an Old, but whatever.
Which brings me, sort of and finally, to my list of horrible people you meet online, especially in comment sections:
1. The person who thinks they live here. These are the folks who, while not actually earning any money from their favorite site, spend so much time there that they feel it’s more theirs than the management’s. Sites encourage this, because having loyal readers is good for traffic, but trouble starts when the lifer starts telling newbies “how things are done around here.” Basically a street gang with an input device.
2. The person who is just being honest. This is also a failure to gauge intimacy, but on a more global level. This commenter doesn’t think the site belongs to him; he thinks the world belongs to him. The only upside is that this person is the same online as they are in real life, so they’re at least genuine, if annoying. Includes anyone who corrects minor typos and grammatical issues while ignoring the point of someone else’s comment and also anyone who starts a reply with, “I think you mean…”
3. The person who starts every comment with “um.” Just lazy and terrible.
4. The actual racist/sexist/homophobe/xenophobe/sayer of the word “retard.” Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, this person feels totally free to tell you that Barack Obama is only president because of affirmative action. If it weren’t for those pinkos, this commenter would be president and Barack Obama would be the night shift manager at Kinko’s. Includes anyone who wants to tell us all the “truth” about rape. Sometimes related to…
5. The ostrich. The commenter who thinks that the internet makes them invisible, while still allowing them to be cruel to others. Has obviously never accidentally tweeted their location in a photo — or has, and doesn’t know it yet. My Dad’s advice way back in the day when I got my first job (coincidentally, also the era of the marching ants) still applies: Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t tape to your forehead or staple above your desk.