A new diagnoses for online hate

I am a mommy blog enthusiast. I don’t just read posts; I love to read and respond to comments. Online discussion is a great way to chew over the dilemmas, philosophy and every day challenges of parenting. And I’ve always been a chewer – one of those people who digests things by reading, and talking, and reading, and more talking. What do they call those? Women? (Kidding! No gender-typing flaming please!)

But everyone knows the problem with online discussion. It nearly immediately becomes as heated as your worst family holiday. The name-calling! The stereo-typing! The uncalled for venomous bile! The conventional wisdom is this: when people can get away with it, anonymously, they will become huge jerks. In other words, the Internet is letting us reveal our inner judgmental heckler.

And maybe it is so. But lately, I’ve come to have another theory. I think we have public empathy fatigue.  The age of Oprah, and blogs, and disease 5Ks is all about the public confessional. No personal horror – from molestation to financial ruin to infertility to drug abuse – is not suitable for public discussion. And you know what? That’s FREAKING FANTASTIC. I may not be a member of the book club, but I will forever be grateful for what Oprah alone has done for survivors of sexual abuse.  To me, one of the major leaps forward of our era is how the media and Web create community for people who experience tragedies big and small. And public discussion is a shame buster, no doubt.

But the flip side of everyone getting to share their pain, and find a community of people to share it with, is that we are constantly listening to people complain. Indeed, they may be complaining about very painful and meaningful things: disease, loss, family conflict, disappointed hopes and financial difficulty. But the cacophony of people seeking empathy can overwhelm, and even I, who view myself as a pretty nice person, occasionally have the urge to anonymously write, “Just shut up already and stop whining!” And if you look closely, a lot of online “hateful” comments say just about that. Sometimes with a bit less tact.

This doesn’t cover it all of course, there really are some very angry trolls out there on parenting blogs, blissfully spending their days telling everyone that they should trade their snot-nosed kids in for dogs, but I think there’s something to this theory too. I know I spend a lot of time getting pretty emotional about the lives of people I don’t even know. And it can be taxing. Last summer, I took a break from reading parenting press after a story that described a child suffering kept me up late crying for a week. I get the urge to want to tell other people to stop sharing their problems so much. We also need to hear some good stuff!

Why do you think things online get so much more hostile than they do most times in the real world?

One Response to “A new diagnoses for online hate”
  1. Skinny Sushi says:

    I’ve always thought that it was all about anonymity… the idea that people will say things they would otherwise censor because there is no way to tell who they are…

    I think that you have something here too though. I do think people get a little tired of the constant confessional and they have less patience than they once might have. I hope it doesn’t continue down that course. I hate to think we’re headed toward a totally apathetic society.

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