Platforms such as Twitter seem to increasingly foster and encourage unhealthy, vitriolic and hostile behaviours. These often transpire as forms of ‘outrage’ culture, virtue-signalling, mobbing, and cancel culture, none of which seem particularly virtuous. I woke up today to see that even tea, yes, tea, has now become a victim of an online mob.
I have been having a difficult time placing these behaviours in a ‘real world’ context, as I do not feel that there are appropriate versions that typically reasonable people engage with. Indeed, they are so clearly unreasonable behaviours, which is exactly why I think most of it seems to be confined to online spaces – precisely because emotionally immature bullies or toxic individuals feel they can get away with them due to the astounding lack of accountability these spaces possess.
Sadly, those who engage with such behaviours, whatever their intentions, end up creating a divisive, counter-productive, and often hypocritical culture of violence and hostility. Often on social media, is it easy to forget that real people are on the other end, and we should remember not to behave any differently towards others than we would in real life. This means remembering to think critically, be reflective, and to treat others with the compassion and respect they reserve.
In this post, I want to suggest just some simple tactics that we can all try to help create a healthier online space. While simply ignoring the minority of hostile individuals can be useful as a short-term solution, it doesn’t really fix the problem. Instead, small steps from each of us can lead to big and positive cultural changes and reclaim online spaces from hateful masses.
- Be able to identify toxic people.
- Being able to spot people who behave unhealthily is useful in all areas of life. A couple of clear give-away signs are the frequent use of over-emotive behaviours, being constantly offended and over-using ‘woke’ languages to shut down conversation, and a total inability to apologise or ever own up to their mistakes, no matter how small.
- These are standard ways that people project their own insecurities and shortcomings on to others. Again, usually easy to spot by those who seem to refuse to partake in any sort of personal growth or learning opportunities, often combined with deeply narcissistic tendencies. For example, if someone has been tweeting about their same problems for many years, it probably means that they are not doing a very good of dealing with those things internally (excluding actual mental health issues, of course).
- As a good rule of thumb, NEVER engage with them, as this is what toxic individuals want. They thrive on attention. Toxic individuals don’t want to learn from their mistakes, and will only fight you if you call them out for their behaviour. Their whole behaviour is based on conflict escalation rather than resolution, and they will wear you down emotionally if you try to engage.
- Block and mute liberally.
- The block and mute buttons are your friends. Maybe do not use them on everyone who simply challenges you, as being challenged can be healthy for us as individuals. But as a general rule of thumb, anyone who seems to be behaving with hostility can get the chop.
- Also learn the differences between the two. If you mute someone, you cannot see their tweets, and they will not know you have muted them. If you block someone, they will know that you have blocked them.
- People who behave badly online also exist in the real world. As a good rule of thumb, if you block someone online, don’t pretend everything is okay with them if you meet them offline.
- Avoid those who undermine the equal rights movement
- The equal and civil rights movements have had difficult enough histories fighting for equitable standards and to be taken seriously. They were built by the heroic efforts of individuals over time, and should not be allowed to be undermined and invalidated. Equal rights means equal for everyone. Part of this entails knowing when to listen, and when contributing your own voice is needed.
- Do not engage with anyone who calls others names.
- Remember how we used to spot bullies in high school? Same thing. If you find that someone continuously makes ad hominem attacks, they probably haven’t grown up and are still a bully. Name calling is pretty dishonourable, and a fairly simple way to spot immature individuals.
- Avoid people who use vague, and unverified terms, especially those which are criminally loaded, and are often dangerously and hyperbolically used with zero evidence or qualification. This should set off all sorts of alarm bells.
- People who spread rumours about other people, are not your friends.
- One of the earliest things I remember my mum teaching me was “If you do not have anything nice to say about anyone, say nothing at all.” Basically, spreading rumours and negative information about people never helps anything. What it does tell you though is that those individuals probably also spread rumours about you too, if they happen to know you. It is a deeply untrustworthy behaviour.
- Usually, people who do engage in rumour spreading have deep internal problems themselves, and are simply trying to drag others down to make themselves feel better. We should not support that, and instead question why people feel that rumour-spreading is appropriate adult behaviour.
- Ignore people who mislead, evade, and deceive, and constantly avoid fact-based discussions.
- BUT SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET! If it feels like a discussion is going nowhere, and that every response you give opens up a dozen new channels, the energy is probably not worth investing.
- If someone is avoiding providing evidence, and generally being vague, they are probably lying to you. It is best to disengage, as you are unlikely to get anything of value from these people.
- Anyone who behaves in a quasi-judicious manner, and tries to take the law into their own hands as a form of vigilantism.
- The traditional understanding of justice is that, before punishing or condemning an individual, you hear both the accused and the accuser’s side of the story, with both sides presenting evidence before reaching judgement.
- If people are attempting to bypass traditional forms of justice, this is usually a good sign of dishonorable intentions. For example, those who proclaim guilt without due process, as well as demanding judgement of others.
- Don’t engage anyone who thrives on cancel culture.
- This includes people who actively try to isolate and intimidate others through fear. They are cruel and often vindictive, and anyone can seemingly be the victim these days.
- Cancel culture is a brutal modern form of damnatio memoriae, designed to strategically isolated and excessively ‘shame’ people to a degree that essentially leads to their ‘cultural death’ and excommunication.
- My view is to let these people destroy themselves, by exposing their behaviours in public. The best way to stop cancel culture is, ironically, to cancel those who engage with it in the first place. Lead by example, don’t give into mob dynamics, and create a healthier system where these behaviours become redundant.
- Ignore people who, it seems like, their only value is to be aggressive towards others.
- Some people out there seem to offer so little value to public discourses, that their only role is to detract from the value of others’. Often, you can see this behaviours distributed as careless and baseless demonstrations of cheap outrage, where it remains totally unclear what the intentions were. Besides short-term gain.
- These individuals specialise in invalidating the experiences and feelings of others in online spaces, and easy to spot.
- Give second chances.
- Despite all of what I mention above, for me unbiased compassion and forgiveness are key, and should always be our starting positions. is part of being an emotionally mature and responsible individual.
- If you find that someone is breaking these simple guidelines, consider carefully explaining it to them in private. Often that will work wonders compared to ignoring or public call-outs.
- Often when people are being aggressive or accusatory, it often suggests that they are suffering inside themselves. Therefore, reaching out to those individuals can be more useful. Yes, it can be more time and energy consuming, but we should always have the time to help others when needed.
I believe in failing forward, learning from difficult life experiences and being better for them, so that we become better for those around us. I also believe that those who do us harm, whether intentionally or not, are our greatest teachers, as they allow us to practice patience and forgiveness; and thus, should be treated with gratitude, rather than contempt.
We are facing massive problems in our world during what feels like a time of global crisis. We each have a responsibility to be emotionally and intellectually exceptional in working for a better society and healthier research culture. Aggressive in-fighting and discord, will not help us, and yet this toxic and perverse behaviour is something that plagues online scientific discourses.
We owe it to ourselves and the society we serve to raise the stakes and the level of engagement to stop further disunity within an already fragmented community. Build bridges, don’t burn them.
Cultivating strong and healthy communities is based on features such as having harmonious and reciprocal moral and ethical understanding, acceptance of failure, and unbiased compassion and forgiveness. These principles are fragile but indispensable universal human rights, and it is the duty of each of us to protect and reinforce them, and to take positions of personal responsibility and leadership.