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What's with the name?

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We Can't Have Nice Things

Why Is Everyone On The Internet So Angry?

Everyone on the Internet is mean. Seriously, every single person who has ever booted up a computer is a total jerk, and that is the only plausible explanation for the vitriol of YouTube users, the violent comments hurled at feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, and just the general garbage spewed on Twitter all of the time. At least, that would be the easy explanation behind our culture’s predisposition to online flame wars. As it turns out, the answer to what makes us all so mean on the Internet, and what to do about it, is fairly nuanced, and a difficult problem to fix.

According to Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, not only are online comments horrifically aggressive, “at the end of it you can’t possibly feel like anybody heard you. Having a strong emotional experience that doesn’t resolve itself in any healthy way can’t be a good thing.”

I can tell you first hand that it’s not a good thing, and anyone who has almost broken their computer in rage at someone else’s online ignorance can attest to that. Unfortunately, the state of the Internet readily lends itself to pointless flame wars. According to Live Science, three factors contribute to these aggressive exchanges: first, commenters can choose to remain anonymous, absolving themselves and their comments of any accountability.  Second, the target of their comments is at a distance to begin with, and let’s be honest, it’s way harder to say horrible things to someone in person. Lastly, it’s way easier to be a jerk by way of the written word, especially when you have the infinite time that commenting online allows you to stew over your argument and produce the dreaded walls of screaming text that only the most masochistic of us dare to read.

In fact, the very nature of the comment section turns pretty much all attempts at calm, rational discourse into a shouting match that involves no actual exchange of ideas. So, since our online user experience is pretty much rigged to promote this, what are we to do, Internet friends?

Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, seems to place part of the blame on the habitual anger of the mainstream media: ”Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire, Bill O’Reilly. People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about.”  He seems to think that improving the civility of the mainstream media will eventually trickle its way down to the Internet. That’s a nice idea, but it seems like an unlikely evolution in the near future.

Google, as we’ve reported before, is taking a different approach: by linking up YouTube user accounts with Google+ profiles, it seems that the Internet giant hopes to increase accountability with equal parts deterrence and public shaming, thereby ending the nebulous awfulness of video comment sections. Unfortunately, this approach seems dubious at best — it would seem that abusive users will just opt out of the account transition, and, as Mary Sue reader Tsabhira pointed out, it’s possible that “it’d just bring on a new level of jerkishness when people can now see (via your name and image) your gender, attractiveness, race, age, and sometimes religion and sexual persuasion too, and now use these things to up the attack ante.”

In reality, I don’t actually have an answer for this mess. My inclination is to advocate for more moderators, and consequently more banhammers, but I don’t think that changes the underlying culture of hatred and meanness that seems to plague our Internet age. The only people who have control over whether or not the Internet is cleaned up are, well, the jerks who are messing it up in the first place. So, here’s some friendly advice for us all: Let’s try not to be dicks to one another. Let’s remember that the robot overlords haven’t taken over yet and that there are actual human beings using these comment sections. I don’t mean this as one of those “let’s all be friends” cop-outs: not everyone online is in equal positions of power in society, and most hateful comment content stems from folks leveraging their societal privileges against disenfranchised people. Instead, let’s stop leveraging our power to hurt other people, and when the shit hits the fan, let’s try to be kind to those being hurt and offer words of support. When you see a marginalized group or person under attack, step up and help them.

It’s an imperfect solution, but I think it’s a start, and it’s a baby step I’m willing to take toward civil discourse with all of you, you beautiful Internet people, you.

(via Yahoo News.)

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  • Anonymous

    My take, from my more opiniony blog, Is That Really Desirable?

    “It is AMAZING how seriously everything is taken on the Internet”

  • Kate Renee Cochran

    Thanks for this, Kellie. So true. 


    I didn’t read the above article… but you suck! >:[

  • brian



  • Curtis Owings

    Moral lessons are often taught in the context of religious teachings.  Our western religions are unraveling being full of myth and inconsistencies.  More and more are rejecting religion but failing to replace/retain the moral and philosophical lessons.  Which is a long-winded way of saying “we need to find other reasons to be nice to each other.”  We have to recognize the use of hate and fear as weapons as taboo or some other “off limits” sort of activity.  Bill and Ted may end up being prophets after all, “Be Excellent to each other.”

  • Selkiechick

    I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty. if I like something- I forward it, if I HATE something I comment. I feel like perhaps i should revise that.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like miscommunication is responsible for a large portion of flame wars on the internet. It is very difficult to convey sarcasm and humor. It’s even more difficult to convey a conflicting view without sounding horrible pretentious and snarky. Couple that with the points Kellie mentioned and you have a recipe for flame wars/ 

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    I would say that Internet rage has definitely helped me to deal better with a dysfunctional family. I’m not sure if anyone else has had this experience, but more than once I’ve responded to the obnoxious white trash outcry from this or that cousin, aunt, or uncle with a similar response to what I might give online…and it’s a fairly liberating experience. Then again, that’s just me. I don’t generally post anonymously and I’m not accustomed to hate speech (unless, as exhibited on this very page, it’s against Comic Book Men…because, man, that show is awful).

  • Anonymous

    I’ve made it a personal rule to avoid comments on certain websites just because it makes me sad. That sounds dumb, but it’s true. The Mary Sue is one of my “safe” sites because the majority of people are calm, intelligent and can discuss things like adults. So, cookie for all of Mary Sue commentors and readers!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly! One time, I posted something completely stupid about sushi (I was making fun of a friend who always manages to belittle everyone who turns down sushi.) I mean, how many people actually see stranger’s Tumblrs? Or so I thought…some of the comments I got back that personally attacked me (you’re racist!) were so terrible. And Tumblr allows anonymous messages to be sent which just made them even meaner…

  • Belinda D. M. Locke

    This reminds me of a conversation I overheard.  I work at a school and a couple of 11 year old boys were talking about the internet.  The one boy grins and then begins to brag about how he got banned from some place for cursing people out…  Y’know, like it’s some sort of accomplishment or something.  It’s obviously nothing new (sadly), but it’s scary considering that each generation is being more and more exposed to the internet, the media, and this sort of “acceptable” behavior.  It’s definitely gotten worse than it was 10 or so years ago (when I was about this kid’s age).  I can only imagine what the future holds.  :/

  • Anonymous

    Comment sections give us insight into humans true nature. For the most part Internet arguments don’t lead to violence, so I believe hiding ourselves from ourselves is a bad idea. We need to face up to the fact that this is how people really think, when they are not being constrained by social mores.

    I don’t think creating an environment where anyone’s career can be ruined over 5 year old YouTube comments is a place we want to go.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to have to disagree with this article: I’ll tell you exactly what i say online to your face, in person & i’ll tell it to you in nearly an identical fashion to how i did it online… Possibly slightly less latin words, unless i’ve written them on my hand before hand.

    As for the hatred spewed at Anita Sarkeesian that hatred was completely justified: When you close off any recourse for reasonable people & then paint everyone as a violent rapist who disagree’s with you, then youare deserving of hatred… But the upside of that event was that it showed us exactly how bullshit the current state of gaming press is… All you can think of them while reading anything they have “written” is oh yum, my favourite kind of food: Copy Pasta.

  • Joanna

    You’re all fucking nazis!  Argle bargle argle!

  • Anonymous

     Me too. I’ve slowly but surely been drifting away from sites that have despicable communities. Mary Sue is one of the few I still visit regularly. Thanks all for being so civil. :)

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know how to get people to stop being mean, but it has to be acknowledged that many people seem to go out of their way to read and participate in discussions that they know will only make them angry.  Why not just focus on what your personal friends like and care about, rather than taking in strangers’ opinions?  Sure, one can’t help but glance at comments when they’re there, but why be preoccupied with what strangers think?  We can’t change their opinions no matter how much we plead and reason, so it’s a waste of time to engage in individual arguments.

    Meanwhile, someone has the temerity to start a fundraiser for a larger-scale effort to prevent bigotry on the Internet and their site (GAB) gets destroyed by hackers.  At least Killermann has gotten some funding now.  As Kellie mentioned in the article, we should respond to the stepping up of trolling and harassment by stepping up our support of anti-hate projects.  Don’t let the jerks win!

  • Steven Ray Morris

    you still have Zoidberg…YOU ALL STILL HAVE ZOIDBERG!

  • Ashe

    Well, this doesn’t make much sense.

    This article described a trend in online communication, not yours exclusively. Your disagreement is based on some pretty narrow facts. All you have to do is read the comments on a Youtube video or visit IMDB to notice this stuff. 

    Two, the hatred spewed at Anita Sarkeesian was justified? Did I miss something or is that completely backwards? 

  • Ashe

    You said it. Lack of accountability, plenty of time to formulate a hefty wall of text, etc. It’s always easier to be a snarky badass online where you don’t have to face a stranger/co-worker/acquantice/employee/real human being and care about their reaction/face the consequences. You can always forget that cluster of mean words the next day. 

    I’d like to think I’m a polite and civil person, but who the hell am I kidding? I’ve done my fair share of smarmy e-badassing and keyboard snipping in my Internet commenting career. I’ve learned if I hold standards off the computer, I can keep them when I’m online, too. 

    And if my emotions cloud my vision and I forget this little moral, I can always just visit the grammatically hilarious dregs of Youtube to remember what could happen if I don’t check myself. 

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t XKCD address this issue way back when? Didn’t Munro propose a read it aloud feature for Youtube comments? ( Didn’t Youtube actually implement it? Wasn’t the first comment along the lines of “What a dumb feature? I sound like a complete moron.”?

  • Natasha Dythia

    The worst place I have found to be attacked is mommy boards/forums/blogs. If one person has a differing opinion then the rest of the group they turn on you like Pirranha – taking little bites and jabs until you feel like you are the worst person in the world. I stay far away from those types of comment areas – it normally ends with me wanting to throw my keyboard through the monitor or wanting to sit down and cry – or both. I think sometimes, as a whole people on the internet forget they are dealing with other human beings that have feelings – if you prick us, do we not bleed? I find it sad – because a lot of people do with hold from commenting because of past experiences – which hurts bloggers and other readers – I wish we could all just play nice – instead I feel like that geeky girl in high school again, trying to dodge the popular girls… I thought those days were over.

  • Smoke Tetsu

    Here’s the way commenting works for me personally. If something doesn’t speak to me or I dislike it I don’t comment. If I really like something or it’s interesting to me I leave as good and relevant comment as I can…. if I come up with something I think is worthwhile to say. 

    If I disagree with someone about something whether or not I comment depends on the subject and whether or not I think saying anything would be worth it. If it’s not or the subject is a can of worms then I don’t. 

    One thing I never do is go out of my way to be contrary and or get a rise out of people on purpose to get a rise out of people to get my rocks off so to speak. Otherwise know as trolling. As many of you probably already know there’s people out there that don’t really care about the subjects they are trolling they are just in it “for the lulz”. 

  • Brian

    I think she claimed that Anita shut down all forms of communication and then called anyone who opposed her a rapist?

  • Anonymous

    Actually it doesn’t describe a trend, it states a trend exists, without justifying that statement. Kind of like if i said there is an extreme trend of people online being shot dead in drive by shootings… Sure its a great statement to make, but is it one that can be justified.

    “All you have to do is read the comments on a Youtube video or visit IMDB to notice this stuff.”

    Except thats an even narrower observation that falls into the correlation as causation logical fallacy. This is the equiviliant of going to a pre primary in china & then declaring that since 100% of the people involved are chincese & 80% of the people involved are children, that 80% of the population of the world is chinese toddlers.

    The inverse of a stat doesn’t hold true.

    “Two, the hatred spewed at Anita Sarkeesian was justified? Did I miss something or is that completely backwards?”

    More then likely you missed something. Which is not at all suprising if you only read the press on the occurence, rather then looking at what actually happened. Anita Sarkeesian went and closed off all access to all of her other videos, then she bad mouthed an entire gender, then told them how they should act on nothing more then her authority as a possessor of a vagina & then demanded that everything be adapted to her own preferences… All on the basis of some material that she removed all context from and replaced with her own context.

    An then the gaming press, which frankly doesn’t deserve the title of “press” literally copy & stuck the version of “the truth” as it appeared on her own blog page (which included branding anyone who refuted her out of context world view as a troll who was attacking her for being a woman). This press she then used to make $200,000 tax free, which she will use to make more videos in which she will remove the real context & subsititute her own, which she will then make more money off from being a youtube partner.

    So yeah, the hatred is justified in this case.

  • Anonymous

    Same! The Mary Sue is my comments haven.

  • Totz_the_Plaid

     Some sites have scripts that replace swears in comments with other words… someone should take that a step farther and replace vitrolic comments with pictures of kittens, forcing everyone to either remain calm and lay out their points rationally, or be muzzled by cuteness…

  • 7i7e

    Blocking every comment that contains poor grammar, spelling and punctuation would be a start. Not to be judgemental, but the majority of giant squids of anger tend to be very bad at all three. Also, it would kill off grammar nazi commenters completely. 

  • Liz Weishaar

    As a Boston driver, I think that anonymity (and possibly a lot of eleven-year-old boys who can type but have few to no social or critical-thinking skills) set the tone of the internet. When I’m behind the wheel of my car, I feel free to cut any other idiot off at will, for any reason or no reason–survival of the fittest. But would I barge my shopping cart in front of that person at the grocery store while shrieking at them and flipping them off? I don’t think so.

  • Riviera

    You do have the ability to shut off anonymous Asks though, which is a very good thing.

  • Anonymous

    Someone is taking something on the internet seriously.
    You do NOT have the right not to be offended.

    Racist tweets are bad…….
    don’t care about black people getting treated like criminals in real life.

    Violent comments on youtube annoying a feminist is bad…….
    don’t care about women’s inequality (slavery) and issues of violence and oppression in real life.

    Words are awful , way worse than actual real life.

    If you take words on the internet seriously…..YOU have the problem.
    And yes… people out there are that stupid, ignorant and vile.
    But a few words (you don’t know the REAL intent of) are in no way as serious as stuff that happens in real life every day.

  • Magic Xylophone

    So what you’re proposing is some sort of Final Solution to deal with all these commenters whose grammar is insufficiently pure? 

  • Pennie Cuevas

    I kind of  like that on HelloGiggles, you can only comment through your Facebook profile. It sucks if you don’t have a Facebook account, but I think it ups the level of accountability. It has probably deterred a bunch of loser dbags from flaming posts. It sure as hell beats a captcha :P

  • Anonymous

    Aw, link is broken… :(

  • David Hoose

    I have the reason. It saddens me to say it and it sounds like such a simplistic view of things I’m almost embarrassed to say it….people suck.

  • Jeffrey

    You make some really valid points Kellie. I especially agree with your desire to slowly change the underlying issues and not just ban everyone to treat the systems. I think that will force the people who are angry to find other, possibly more destructive, outlets. I just hope I can continue to do my part by simply thinking before I type just as I do before I speak. I really enjoyed reading this article, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Valid point. After that though, I guess I was turned off by blogging. I shut down my Tumblr a few weeks after I was called a bigot for not liking tuna rolls.

  • Kyle

    To make it short we are in the end times and all will be judged according to their deeds. It doesn’t matter if you’re black/white/gay.etc we are all going to be judged on how we deal with others.

    This world was cursed from the beginning and will fall apart. Nothing can stop that and the mean comments often are shrills to get people to fight so much so that we will BEG the United Nations to control the internet for us and be their slaves.

    That’s when we will do things like bartering to survive off the grid as we will have global currency and a major hero will take over who can *solve* whatever crisis that is set up to make the one world government most likely a financial crisis and a series of false flags set up to support it.

    There are two world orders. Fake New World Orders and Real ones where when the fake ones have no more use they are knocked down from the playing field and taken over.

    The Twin Towers were part of the fake new world order and totally anti American so when their use was over they were knocked down which is why building 7 was seen being *pulled* with live audio of the Firefighters telling it to be pulled down.

    That is why the 1993 Truck Bomb Attacks happened as part of a corrupt FBI deal in which they were originally going to use fake explosives but decided to use the real thing at the last minute to *corner* a suspect. It was originally meant to knock over the twin towers back then fully loaded with people at lunch time.

  • Kyle

    In short with the one world currency being set up secretly in which rich people are quietly dumping stocks and Russia threatening to dump the dollar the freedom of the internet was we know it is about to go bye bye.

    Get used to a censor net where anything you say can and will be *scrubbed* in which you will have men in white come knocking on you’re door wanting to have a *little chat* with you.

    Hopefully people set up their own private networks like shortwave radio operators and make their own *internet* happen in which it will be like Prohibition in the 1920s in that police do raids for illegal servers.

  • Kyle

    Welcome to Materialistic America!

  • Kyle

    Hey I’ve notice that on a lot of forum blogs especially if they cater to a certain group of people and you’re opinion is outside their circle of thinking you will be made to feel like a miserable person.

    I notice though this is a problem if the blog is tied to a media channel.

  • Kyle

    LOL! I don’t like tuna rolls either but I think it’s very immature. See this is more proof that we have traded religion for materialism which is a form of religion in disguise.

    Are people so blind they can’t see the emperor has no clothes?

  • Kyle

    Pretty much. At least it’s a start in the right direction. All good things must begin somewhere!

  • Kyle

    I’ve notice that too actually. Satan is sure working overtime!

  • Lili Dragunova

    As there are no perceived consequences on the internet, people have a tendency to speak without a filter and reveal their true nature. Such is the price of the anonymity of the internet.