Why online articles bring out the worst in people



It’s strange isn’t it, that once people post an opinion in a public forum, other people – who they have never met, who they have never done anything to – believe that they have the right to be abusive to them.

Having recently written about how much is lost in translation in the written word, I wasn’t surprised when I read the readers’ comments on a Guardian article last week.

The article in question was about the American police officer that shot Terence Crutcher, a black man, in Tulsa. Hundreds of readers were commenting and many British readers were pointing out the difference in gun law between the US and the UK, which is undoubtedly a contributory factor.

What started as a passionate argument with poignant views and thought-provoking counter-arguments, quickly slid into an abusive tirade between the UK and the US. Some of the most offensive expletives that we all know were being slung about, and the issue at the heart of the article was forgotten in amidst those who were climbing aboard the abuse bandwagon, waggling their little pitchforks and seeing who could pipe up with the most vehement combo of swear words and body parts.

Healthy debate is something I welcome, especially as a teacher of philosophy. Rude and, frankly, dense commentary, is not. If you have to resort to abuse then you’ve nothing intelligent to say and you do little aside from show yourself up as not being the sparkliest pixie on the toadstool.

But because these are complete strangers, and because it’s not face to face, perhaps it’s all too easy to slip into being plain old nasty. You can air an opinion that differs hugely to someone else, and you can even air an opinion that isn’t complimentary at all about someone else’s behaviour – all legitimate and up for debate – but once you have to resort to calling them names and pointing out their physical failings, or posting cruel comments to them, then the only person you’ve degraded is yourself. You’re not only being rude, but you’re losing sight of any actual wrong-doing by the other person – giving the impression, in fact, that they’ve done nothing, and that the only one who is wrong is none other than… you. You simply won’t be taken seriously.

Facebook rants, for example, are all too easy to fall into. We’ve all been there. But in retrospect we can probably all agree that it’s far better to reply in a polite manner, stating our own views calmly, and remembering that much in the way of intonation is lost in the written word.

Somebody commented on my column’s Facebook page recently about an article I wrote concerning the influence of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, who give the impression to very young kids that it’s fine to just strip off and send semi-naked selfies to not only anybody online (is that really a 12 year old boy following you on Instagram?) but the world at large in the 21st century. The commenter suggested that I was therefore not a feminist and that Kim K can do what she likes with her own body. I agree – she can – but I still maintain that doing so in the public eye, leading to very young children taking selfies in bikinis and posting them online in the belief that this is ‘success’ and the way to ‘celebrity’, is the utter opposite of empowering young girls. The only people it’s empowering is paedophiles.

The person also questioned why I hadn’t written about men stripping off – simple: I was focusing on females. The majority of celebrities that strip and pose selfies are female, even if they weren’t then I chose females and their influence on younger females, and if men are stripping and inadvertently encouraging young boys to do the same in a public forum in which they can be groomed and abused, then my opinion is the exact same for them. Because the crux of my article wasn’t the gender or sexism of selfies – it was the audience of them. The audience who, like the Guardian readers, are completely anonymous to you. You don’t know them, nor how old they are, or what their lifestyle choices are, or even how distant – or close – they may be to you. Just because the internet can be anonymous, it doesn’t mean that we should be any more open, less cautious, or more abusive, than we would be in a dark alley with a stranger behind us at night. You do not know who is watching.

And although the commenter and I differed in opinion, I welcomed the debate – why else would I bother writing, if not to encourage interaction and to put thoughts out there? What I had written had been thought-provoking enough for them to use up nearly an hour of their life commenting on it.  I wouldn’t have dreamt of being abusive to that person or calling them names, no matter what I thought of their views, but perhaps that’s because I try quite hard these days to imagine that I am actually speaking to whomsoever I am typing to online, and act as though I am chatting to this complete stranger’s face. As the Guardian commenters demonstrated, you don’t get anywhere by simply slagging each other off, and I like to keep my abusive comments for the people I actually know … 😉


Kids and dentists…

According to reports, nearly 40% of British children did not see a dentist last year. Really?? Given that many children these days also have to have teeth removed due to the sugars in cereals and drinks, you’d think it imperative, if only to set up and model good habits for adult life.

It’s free for kids to see a dentist, it’s only twice a year, and it’s not remotely scary when it’s just a peek in the mouth and a sticker at the end of it. Admittedly it’s less pleasant if you’re having a tooth or two removed, but if you brush them to start with and don’t have Pepsi on your Cocoa Pops, then surely you’re home and smiling. With teeth.


GCSE Results

I have been reading through various new exam specifications this week, all in preparation for this being the first academic year in which our children will, in many subjects, be awarded a 9-1 grade.

By the following academic year, the humanities and sciences will have caught up with maths and English, and there will no longer be any letter-graded system left.

The new specifications are not only harder but the government have offered practically zero in terms of guidelines as to what a grade 6, for example, will even consist of.

I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before they announce a new initiative to introduce a radical system … one in which GCSEs are awarded an A*-G grade.


First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 1st October 2016



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