The internet is a fantasy-land for some. I’m not talking about making money online — see the “dot-com bubble” for what happens when too many cooks are in the virtual sector kitchen — but users on the information superhighway.
There are websites and communities that attract certain segments of the population that love to fuck shit up: hacking sites for fun, using personal information for personal gain, making libelous statements or revel in depravity like a pig in muck. Anyone hear of 4chan.org? Lemonparty.org? There is some messed-up shit out there. And that leaves the rest of the internet. Like encountering people in public, you are bound to run into assholes. And the anonymity of the internet allows people to embrace their inner asshole (try picturing that image!) and respond to other people, well, like an asshole.
It’s funny how many people see internet communication as this digital playground, a place where there are no consequences for behavior that would normally be frowned upon in social settings. And for the most part, the Wild West-like nature of the online world encourages that; you wouldn’t look at porn in your company office or on the bus unless you have an addiction, mentally unstable or… an asshole.
In the same way, you wouldn’t cuss at, hurl racial slurs at or mock strangers unless you were mentally unstable, a coward or — all together now — an ASSHOLE. Changing subjects, ignoring emails, fabricating topics and stories are only some of the ways that people behave online when accountability when they log on, letting social mores disappear. More often than not, if you’re a messageboard user, you will encounter people that won’t give two shits about taking you to task when presented the opportunity.
For example, on a messageboard devoted to cars, I recently made a comment about a car that I was interested in seeing released in the U.S. Said messageboard has a majority of people who claim that they would buy a certain vehicle, only to see that same car or truck suffer from low sales because of its niche status. Apparently, my comment about hedging my bets about the car being released domestically called out the douchebag police, with two longtime users taking me to task for being among the sheep that talked trash without backing it up. I responded in a carefully-worded statement that, among the fact that they didn’t know me or my buying preferences, that I was a car fan and that they should consider the weight of their words. One of those guys fired back with the question of whether I would buy the car and for me to not “take things on here so personally dude.”
Really? “Don’t take things on here so personally dude.” That was what was said. That is the type of reaction that a coward makes when backed against the wall for fear of not getting their ass beat. Example: “Yeah, I called you a n***** f*****, but I was just playin’! Don’t take things on here so personally dude.” Here’s another one: “Hey, I know you saw me having sex with your girlfriend, but we were messin’ with ya! Don’t take things so personally dude.”
Seriously, would you let someone call you a liar in real life or online and not call them on it? Would you let some asshole insult you and not say something back? And yet, there is a lack of accountability for one’s actions. Try to wade through a site without wondering how people can string together thoughts, let alone the ill-informed opinions and crap spewing from someone’s keyboard that you can’t see.
And there is the rub. Anonymity is a bitch. In the wrong hands, it can be used to generate negative behavior because of the comfort of not being found out. The Klu Klux Klan didn’t like to show their faces for a reason! And there are apparently li’l Klan members in the making; try playing a popular Xbox Live game with a user that has a microphone and you will hear words that would make a Grand Wizard blush.
The best — and saddest part — is turning a troll’s behavior on them. You see a person’s true personality when they are backed against the wall; for the online user, this is when someone is cornered because of their words. At this point, the options are to be truthful, disappear, lie or deflect. “Don’t take things on here so personally dude” is what I would consider to be the “deflect,” taking attention away from their actions and placing focus on the person posing the question. It’s amusing but also annoying, as you can see that those last three options (disappear, lie and deflect) are actions that, when done outside of the internet, create consequences that have to be dealt with. They fail to take accountability for what they did.
And yet if they were on the other end of something they found offensive, they would most likely have a few words to say. What does that say, knowing that buttons can be pushed? Maybe one would be able to let it roll off their back, but how long would that last? If you were out in the street, how long would you let someone needle you before you pushed back? That anonymity of those online series of tubes paints an invisible escape door to crawl through.
And while anonymity is all fun and games, people forget that one’s avatar and those comments made — be it on Facebook or CNN.com — can be traced back to them. While face-to-face interactions can be forgotten and forgiven, thanks to the archiving nature of the internet, those words will live on for search engines to retrieve.
Until we can treat the internet like most socially-aware people treat daily interactions with others, there will be many instances of someone defending their offensive actions with “don’t take things on here so personally dude.”