I guess it's safe to say that last week I had a post go viral and while I have experienced some small degree of Internet success before, this was like nothing that had ever previously happened.
It got so crazy that a friend actually messaged me and said she was worried about me. I reassured her that I was fine.
"But the comments!" she said.
"I ignore them," I told her.
Because I do. And so should you. And you and you too.
Trust me, I get that this can be extremely difficult. For like the first fifteen minutes of my article being viral I was truly tempted to read and respond to comments but then my better sense took hold and I went and played with my daughter and convinced myself that none of it existed. Because honestly? It doesn't.
Comments on the Internet aren't real. They don't matter. They rarely (if ever) make any actual difference in our lives unless, of course, we let them. They are like the noise of a traffic jam. Picture yourself trapped on a giant, crowded parking lot of a freeway in Los Angeles during rush hour in a rainstorm where everyone has road rage and PMS and probably caffeine withdrawal too all at once. Imagine the sounds of the honking horns, the yelling, the skidding and braking, tires squealing. But also imagine yourself safe inside your car, ignoring the noise, turning up some NPR and waiting it out. That's what you have to do with comments on the Internet, be they on facebook, in a forum or a Facebook group, the comments section of a blog post or any other form of online communication.
The opinions of total strangers are inconsequential. They are to be taken in stride. A lot of them are seriously bat shit crazy. Case in point: someone managed to somehow, God help them, make my back to school post about the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. I kid you not. That takes some skill. This person was like an advanced level Internet troll to make a leap like that. I was sort of impressed.
Last week my article ended up on the Huffington Post and I was so excited. Having a piece on there has been a long term career goal of mine and I was prepared. My friends started calling me up and asking me if I had seen the comments on there and oh my God people were calling me names!!!
I never read a single one of them. I don't really care if people were calling me names because first of all these people are strangers, their behavior reflects more poorly on them than it ever could on me and I just don't care.
The first rule of fight club, I mean writing for Huffington or any other big online publication is "NEVER READ THE COMMENTS."
You know those jail scenes in movies where someone has to walk through a corridor of cells and the prisoners inside are all going totally ape shit yelling and screaming, spitting, throwing poop and hurling insults? That's Huffington's comment section and you've got to walk through there unscathed, pretending none of it exists. Don't dare engage with the rioters or someone's going to reach out through the bars and wipe his jizz on you. Do not make eye contact with the prisoners under any circumstances.
That's how I maintain my sanity most of the time, but although I have a pretty much iron will about this sort of thing, it can still be hard, and my experience last week has me thinking.
We all need to stop being such assholes on the Internet.
But, duh. That's kind of obvious, right? I think we all know this already as it applies to others, but not to ourselves. So I decided to make a handy guide.
Are You Being An Asshole on the Internet?
1. Are you arguing with a total stranger?
2. Are you mad because someone on the Internet is wrong?
3. Did you read something that pissed you off on the Internet and decide that you needed to respond to it immediately? Like NOW.
4. Were you personally offended by something someone else said or did on the Internet?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions you need to get off of the computer immediately, get a popsicle and go outside and no, you can't bring your phone. You need a break. You are most likely being an asshole on the Internet. If you look up you might see the underside of a bridge because you could very well be a troll.
If you have determined (as hard as it is to admit) that you are at risk for being an asshole on the Internet, please read the following words of advice.
How to Stop Being an Asshole on the Internet
1. Take a deep breath. Step away from the computer or phone or whatever freaking device you are using to be an asshole on the Internet.
2. Gain some perspective. There are many many people in the world who have different opinions than you and that is okay. There are people with different aesthetic preferences, different ideas of what is funny, different thresholds for finding things offensive and different backgrounds that all contributed to their differing worldviews. And we are all going to be okay in spite of this.
3. You aren't going to change anyone's mind by arguing with them on Facebook or in a comments section. I know this is a hard truth to bear, but suck it up and face the facts. Arguing never convinces anyone. It just makes them more mad and more defensive.
4. Pointing out that someone else is wrong doesn't automatically make you right.
5. If you really want to change people's minds and opinions, don't worry about them at all. Live your own best life and be a role model. For example, if you are a vegan animal rights activist, instead of shaming meat eaters and arguing and calling them all murderers, how about let them taste your yummy vegan food? Let them see how healthy your glow is and how great you feel. Then when they ask your secret, tell them it's because you don't eat animal products and leave it at that. If they ask about it, answer their questions. And if they don't ever ask and keep eating steaks? Who cares? Keep doing the thing you love and feel is best for you.
6. Many of the bloodiest Internet arguments I've seen have been between parents with different views on how to best raise kids. Let me end this shit right now. First, kids are pretty resilient. The fact that I survived my childhood and grew up to write this post is testament to that. Second, there's a very wide margin of error in child raising. If children are loved, fed and sheltered they're pretty much going to be okay. If you are really worried about the well being of children then take your smug ass of the computer and save the kids who actually need it, you know, the ones who live in poverty and abuse in our inner-cities and impoverished rural areas. Help the kids who live in shelters, the kids whose mothers' boyfriends beat the crap out of them, the kids who have no access to fresh fruits and have to eat a bag of Cheetos for dinner. Stop bitching out some bedraggled, middle class mom with a blog who stopped breastfeeding after a week and switched to formula and channel your venom into fixing a world where children in the projects actually choke to death on cockroaches. How about that?
7. We are all on our own paths in life. We learn at our own pace through different experiences. Many people's belief systems, especially the ones you think are really messed up, were cemented at a young age. Many people believe the things they do because they were born into certain belief systems. Often, we inherit our opinions from our cultures, religions and families. Sometimes our beliefs are sealed by fear. Some people will be able to change their minds and others won't. That's just the way it goes and you and your online raving isn't going to make much of a dent, so have compassion and try to put yourself in someone else's position, imagining how or why they believe what they do and then leave it alone.
8. Go do something fun. Please. Get out of the house and engage in some real-life, face to face positive human interaction.
9. Make this your new mantra: Just because someone says something doesn't make it true.
10. In the event that you have posted something on the Internet which has inspired comments understand this: no matter what it is, 1/3 of people will love it, 1/3 will be indifferent and 1/3 will hate it. Out of the 1/3 that hate it, a significant portion is likely to
be insane. It's not personal. It's kind of a numbers game and you can't please everyone.
11. By next week the people you're arguing with are likely to have completely forgotten you anyway so who cares?
12. Your opinion, rant, diatribe, etc. ultimately doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. If you are passionate about a topic then go out and actually do something. Take action. You might think that commenting is taking action but it's not. It can be the start of action in the best possible scenario, but usually it isn't.
13. When you bitch someone out, call them names, wish ill will to the mothers of people you have never met and will never meet, you are, alas, only reflecting poorly upon yourself and not the other person. How you act and what you say is always only about you.
14. Audrey Hepburn, the embodiment of grace and class would never have sat behind her keyboard for three hours calling a woman in Nebraska a stupid, twat-licking whore. I'm sorry, but it never would have happened. So before you type, take a moment to ask yourself "Would Audrey Hepburn have said this?" And if the answer is no, which it probably will be, then don't say it. Move on. Be elegant and eloquent like Audrey.
15. Have some ice cream (and yes, I am aware that by including this that someone somewhere is going to read it and blame me for furthering the obesity epidemic and I am fine with that.)
16. And for the love of God, if after all this you still feel you must insult someone or express your distaste for something someone has written, please proofread and check your spelling. Okay?