Do you remember the Golden Rule? The “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” mantra that, at least once upon a time, was a foundational lesson in elementary school?
It’s shocking how often “the Rule” is overlooked in the online world. Perhaps it’s because of the false comfort of anonymity, but I worry that it’s because people are losing the ability to connect and to empathize.
Behind the faux-anonymity of the internet, people bully, objectify, ridicule, lash out, and criticize in ways that would be deemed unacceptable in most face-to-face social situations.
For example, have you noticed how often articles about death or tragedy quickly gain comments expressing arguments and ideas that so clearly take no account of the friends and family who might stumble across the site? Often, these explosions of callous remarks make me cringe. And the explosion of cyber-bullying? Simply horrifying. As bad as middle school could be 25 years ago, imagine what it is now with the proliferation of social media!
Humanity as a whole is flawed, and part of the problem is that some people – simply because they’re people – make flippant or seemingly callous remarks during bad times as a coping mechanism. But there’s something about putting such words into print, where the hard, cold lines of text are staring back at readers, that should give us pause.
I’ve learned to make a conscious effort to think before I engage in online communication, to ask myself how readers might interpret whatever I’m about to write, to consider what rhetorical approaches will best work with my message.
Despite my good intentions, I still screw up sometimes, and people dislike or maybe even take offense at something I’ve written. But imagine if all the internet users in the world simply put themselves in readers’ shoes before pressing “submit.” Think about what we could accomplish and how much negativity that we could avoid – all if we’d simply follow the Golden Rule.