Zero to Indignation in 6.2 Seconds

So, permit me to self-advertise, because I like the way an embedded Tweet looks on the page:

This doesn’t relate to anything specific, although I guess it kind of coalesced in this form as I was looking at a thread on Twitter which I will not be linking to here because knowing the way the Internet works, the point of my post will be overshadowed by what readers think about the topic being discussed in the Twitter conversation. It would probably also land me on the shit-list of several people, so while actively seeking to avoid that is one reason I won’t mention it, it’s also part of the reason for my Tweet. I guess this is a round-about definition of “subtweet” for those without access to Urban Dictionary.

The Internet is great for disseminating information around the world in short order, but it’s also good in exporting anger and stupidity just as quickly. With so many people able to subscribe to the unfiltered thoughts of anyone else, it’s almost a certainty that something said is going to make someone else angry. Sometimes the things that people say aren’t intended or even offered to offend, but because humans can’t ever control how people view us as individuals, especially if they’re making determinations based solely on questionable prose or 140 character Tweets, pretty much anything posted online is subject to outrage.

It’s even worse when people go out of their way to be offensive, or simply post without consideration for a situation. That’s what was going on with the Tweet-stream that kicked off this post: someone expressed an opinion on a touchy and already-controversial subject, and that opinion was met with a swift and violently vulgar response spread out over four additional Tweets.

We blame anonymity for the anger we see on the Internet, but let’s face it: being anonymous doesn’t make someone an asshole. It does allow them to express their assholic nature without consequence. Even when away from the keyboard, those people are still jerks, and that goes for anyone who chooses to be callous and offensive as well as those who believe that fighting fire with more fire is a sound way to confront someone that they disagree with.

I guess there’s three desirable outcomes when these interactions go down. The first is to stop the original offender from repeat offenses using the “salt the earth” strategy. If we swear enough, insult enough, make the original poster feel small and insignificant enough, then they will simply blink out of existence and take their offensive opinions with them. The second is to vent, of course, because it’s simple and cathartic to string a bunch of swears and insults together and still be within Twitter’s 140 character limit. The third, and sadly the most overlooked yet most ill-conceived option, is to try and change the offender’s point of view by telling them in no uncertain terms to fuck off, and what a stupid asshole they are for being alive.

There is no good outcome to be expected from any of these approaches. At best you can block someone (or someones) as a result of the exchange. At worst, people who act and react this way make things…well, worse. Despite instant indignation and the certainty we feel that we absolutely understand another human being based on his or her 140 character comment, being offensive only puts the other person on the defensive; it’s exactly the same as person A getting defensive over person B’s comment that person A found offensive. Sure, maybe person B’s comment is wrong or morally indefensible, but regardless of the situation, nothing will change if offense is countered with offense. In fact, with the Internet being what it is, such an approach can only succeed in ratcheting up the anger and insults until one party decides they’ve got better things to do with their time than argue with some [insert expletive here]head on the internet. Best to lob one final parting shot, tell the opponent that he or she is being blocked, and sit back in sweaty but smug self-satisfaction that while you may not have wiped the jerk from the face of the earth, you did get in the last word you’ll see in the battle with that person.

How does that solve the problem? It doesn’t. It just makes us feel better for a short while because even though we’re using jerk tactics against jerks, we’re often convinced that we’re fighting for what’s right — regardless of what side of fight we’re on. We either believe that our tactics are fitting for the arena (the Internet), or that we shouldn’t hamstring ourselves by sticking to the “high ground” if we know or even suspect that our opponents aren’t going to similarly restrict themselves. When all is said and done, though, nothing is any better than it was before we started…only worse, because where there was one asshole behaving assholishly on the Internet, now there’s two or more.