Sometimes the internet depresses the hell out of me, you know that?

This isn’t a personal observation, by the way: I’m not talking about the way people treat me on the internet, specifically. And, OK, it’s true that the past couple of weeks has been slightly above average, in that I’ve had a couple of mildly snarky comments, and another couple of ‘WTF?’ ones, but it’s been nothing compared to the kind of thing I see around me: on other blogger’s sites, in the comments sections of news sites, on Twitter whenever politics or celebrities are mentioned… you know the kind of thing I’m sure.

I mean, last week Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint, and there were people on Twitter saying they wished she’d actually been shot, for God’s sake. Now, whatever your opinion is on the Kardashians, I’m pretty sure they haven’t actually harmed you – or had any real impact on your life at all – so why on earth would you be sitting behind your computer screen, wishing one of them dead? That’s not normal. It’s not right. And it honestly terrifies me when I read that kind of thing.

It makes me worry for a future in which people are so used to using “free speech” as an excuse to say the cruellest, most hateful things imaginable to each other, that this kind of behaviour becomes the norm:  which it already IS for some people. These are the people who think it’s OK to say these things because it’s “just the internet” – or worse, because, “they put it out there, so they have to expect to get it back!” Last week plenty of people were gleefully telling each other that Kim K somehow “deserved” to be robbed, because she posts photos of her jewellery on Instagram – just as they say that bloggers “deserve” to be called names, and subjected to the most hurtful speculation and rumours, just because they have a blog, or an instagram account, or whatever.

We are told to expect this kind of treatment: encouraged to believe that if we make ourselves visible in any way, we’re somehow choosing to be abused, and that it’s our own fault – if we don’t want that (And who DOES want it, seriously?), then we should essentially make ourselves invisible. What a dangerous point of view.

autumn leaves in sunlightI’ve reached the point now where there are some websites whose comment sections I won’t venture onto, because the commentary there is so depressing. Even some of the more popular Instagram accounts horrify me, because there seems to be an assumption that once a person reaches a certain level of internet “fame”, they’re no longer human, and it’s perfectly acceptable to say the vilest things to them, and then, when someone calls you out on your nastiness, to simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, she shouldn’t put photos on the internet if she doesn’t want to hear people’s OPINIONS!”

I mean, I say “you”: YOU would never do that, obviously. Or… would you? Because, let’s face it: someone has to be leaving the snide comments and wishing death on complete strangers, just because they don’t like their haircut, or think they make too much money. Don’t they?

I remember back when I worked in a call centre, I’d basically spend my entire weekend being verbally abused by angry customers. Most of it was reasonably mild (although, honestly, ANY amount of aggression towards a person who’s just doing their job is too much, as far as I’m concerned), but some of it got really, really nasty – to the point where customers would threaten to track me down and break both of my legs unless I did what they wanted. (Which was normally to switch their satellite TV back on, even although they hadn’t paid the bill for 3 months. So, life-or-death stuff, for sure.)

After a while, the cumulative effect of all of this anger really did a number on me, and … well, it made me suspect everyone, you know? I’d be out shopping, say, or just going about my business, and I’d find myself looking at the people around me, and thinking, “Is it you? Are you the kind of person who calls up a business and threatens to kill the person on the other end of the phone, just because you’re missing your favourite TV show? I mean, you look nice enough, and you seem nice enough, but… it has to be someone, right?” And sometimes it’s the last person you’d expect.

A few years after I left that job, for instance, I was scrolling through Twitter, when I happened to see one of my Twitter friends tweeting about the company I used to work with, who she’d been having problems with. “I’m going to phone them now,” she said, “And whoever answers the phone is going to get a mouthful of abuse, that’s how angry I am!”

“Wow!” I thought: “it’s YOU! I’d NEVER have suspected you, either!” And then came the support from other people I considered friends. “You’re so right, huh: you tell them!” that kind of thing. The kind of thing you might dismiss as harmless, or even supportive – until you one day find yourself on the other end of that phone, being treated as if you’re not even human, and don’t deserve the most basic of courtesies or respect. And you’ll be treated like that by the same people who you considered “friends”, and who you thought were just lovely: yes, anyone can have a bad day, but not everyone feels the need to take it out on someone else. Or DO they?

The fact is, Internet trolls don’t tend to have green faces and giant boils all over their bodies. They don’t live under bridges, either. They probably look and behave exactly like the rest of us, most of the time: it’s only when they get behind a computer screen (Or on the other end of a telephone line: because I’d bet good money that the people spewing so much venom over bloggers and celebrities are the same ones who used to call me at work and call me a “stupid Scottish bitch” when I told them they’d have to, you know, pay their bill if they wanted to use the service…) that they get brave, and the nastiness comes out.

And that’s what’s so scary about trolls: they’re US, aren’t they? The sheer number of them means they HAVE to be. Because it can’t possibly be just the same few people, managing to spread themselves over half the internet – one minute commenting on a news story to spout their bigoted political beliefs, the next telling some blogger that her hair is “disgusting”, before hopping over to Twitter to talk about how sad they are that a celebrity didn’t die a horrible death. There are just so damn many of them. Some days I get to feeling like almost everyone in the world must be secretly going around just HATING everyone else – and telling them so, on the internet. I don’t think there’s a single news story I’ve read lately that HASN’T had a selection of crazy comments attached to it, and I sometimes feel almost glad that my instagram following isn’t very large, because every time I look at a photo from one of the “insta-famous” crowd, and then scroll down to the comments, it genuinely makes me worry for the future of humanity.

Where do they all come from, these hate-filled people, all frothing at the mouth over some trivial detail? That blogger’s hair is too long! This one has chipped nail polish! OMG, must make sure she knows what a TERRIBLE person she is, and feels really, really bad about it! Heaven forbid we just ignore that tiny detail that annoyed us, huh?

Even the mild snark is hard for me to fathom. I know it comes with the territory (If you don’t want people to be mildly snarky towards you, why do you even HAVE a blog, right?), but any time someone leaves me one of those comments, there’s a part of me that really wants to reach out to them and say, “What made you say that to me? Did it feel good? Did it make you feel better about yourself? What was it about my post/my photo/my tweet that made you think, ‘I want to make this woman to feel bad: I wonder how I could make that happen?'”

I’m not being facetious, either: I genuinely want to know. It’s actually quite fascinating to me. What motivates people to leave those comments, I wonder? I know the standard answer is that it’s “just jealousy!”, but I’ve never bought that. I know there are people I don’t like, who I’m not remotely jealous of: the difference is, it wouldn’t even occur to me to leave them a comment somewhere telling them what I think of them – because what could it possibly achieve? I might be far from perfect, and I’m certainly not going to pretend I’ve never had a single uncharitable thought about someone, but I can’t even fathom looking at someone’s blog or social media and thinking, “I hate that girl’s outfit: I HAVE to tell her that!”

But there are SO MANY PEOPLE who DO leave those kinds of comments: and much, much worse ones. I see them literally every single day, as I scroll through my favourite blogs and Instagram feeds, and lately it’s been making me feel so sad that the world – or the internet, at least – is like that. It feels far too easy to say, “Why can’t we all just be NICE to each other?”, but seriously:

Why can’t we?

31 Comments
  1. Loved this post! I can never understand why people think that’s an okay thing to do and when you see it too often it really brings you down.
    For every negative comment, there’s likely a good one so I suppose it would be best to focus on those, but people shouldn’t have to filter through. X
    Tina x http://www.teaisfortina.co.uk

  2. Well said!

    I work in the social media department of a well-known travel brand and I have dealt with some corkers (like the guy who threatened to go to the press because his kids managed to access the adult entertainment channels…..because that was clearly our fault). And whenever I do see someone being horrible to brands on Twitter I always want to remind them that there’s a person behind that account. And that person doesn’t make the policies. The other day someone was snarkng off to a brand because she coulnt return a dress because she bought it over 28 days ago. That 28 days is common across most stores. Quiet.

    And bloggers are unfortunetly not much different. I’ve been at blogger meetups that have turned into bitchfests. And it’s those small details you mentioned earlier.

    And i now meed to stop ranting myself.

  3. Well said, I spend most of my time on the internet thinking ‘why is everyone else so angry, opinionated, combative and entitled!’ I really feel like I’m missing the angry/self righteous gene.. I really hope it’s just a stage that society is going through and that in a few decades we’ll emerge from this, shaking our heads and saying ‘can you believe so many people acted like that, how crazy’

  4. People have always been cruel to people they can’t physically see, I think it’s just more apparent now it’s on the Internet. I worked in a call centre for a high street bank before and I had someone tell me that I was the reason there kids wouldn’t get any Christmas presents. She yelled at me repeatedly and then I ended up passing the call over to my boss. Having to remain professional when you want to say look lady your £50 a time tops hop and river Island sprees which put you repeatedly into an unplanned overdraft are what got you in this position. Anyway I digress.

    I have been lucky to not get anything personally on my blog, but Twitter seems to be the one that brings out the worst in people

  5. Yes. YES. All of this. I have so many jumbled things I wanted to say, reading this. Let’s see:

    I don’t understand bloggers who read sites like GOMI which exist to belittle other bloggers – don’t they see the connection? Don’t they see that, no matter how successful those bloggers are, and even if they’re actually horrible people in real life, going to a website specifically to revel in people being mean about them is condoning the abuse of other people online?

    There are people I don’t like. There are people about whom I could go into great detail regarding my reasons for disliking them. Sometimes I would very much love to write a big, long blog post publicly shaming them. But I don’t. Because they’re real people and ridiculing them on the internet would be a horrible thing to do. Why doesn’t everybody feel this way?

    So many death threats when I worked in video shops. So many. Just pay your damn late fees or RETURN YOUR VIDEOS ON TIME. Not. My. Fault. And your details are right here on this screen; I’m going to write them down now and, if I’m dead in the morning, the police will know who to question.

    And there was something else. But that’s enough for now.

  6. I think a lot of people have an image of themselves as hard-nosed and too damn kewl for words. Like the old stereotype of a journalist at her typewriter with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth and a glass of Scotch by her side banging out a story that takes no prisoners. Sort of thing. They resent their lives, something in them just hates being a mum or a secretary or a lawyer or whatever else they got themselves into, and being hateful onling gives them a sense of being important and calling the shots. I don’t have a Twitter account and I never read the comments sections of news sites because I know I will get a knot in my stomach at the vile things people say. It even puts me off starting blogging. I had a blog years ago when it was all very amateurish and people were totally batty then and it’s just so much worse now (I think trolls think if you make money at something it justifies the abuse). Once I wrote about headscarves – all sorts, all religions, no religions, the queen in a headscarf, where to get cute headscarves – and some man decided I was targetting his wife whom I had never heard of and was 5000 miles away and he told me he hoped I’d get raped because that would teach me about not being a nice, kind, decent woman like his wife… it was 18 years ago and I can’t forget it. So… yes… I am with you but I have no answers 🙁

  7. Yes! The internet is truly horrific sometimes. When Ched Evans was cleared of rape earlier in the week, I made the huge mistake of looking at the tweets about it. The general bile towards women (because we’re obviously all to blame) was nothing short of dangerous. It makes me really sad. It’s not just people, either. I’ve read comments on Doug the Pug’s instagram calling him fat. I wish I was kidding. That poor dog must be so upset when he reads all that hate…

  8. I think there are probably a few different levels to it. There’s societally normalised stuff, like being nasty to the nice lady at the call centre because of something that clearly has nothing to do with her, or like the victim blamey, wouldn’t-have-happened-if stuff. The latter also makes people feel better because they imagine it can’t happen to them. But that’s no excuse — we’ve really got to do better as a society than to let people get to adulthood not knowing these things be are harmful and wrong.

    Then there’s the base impulse to feel superior. Also pretty normalised. It’s the same reason people say “Oh, you’re drinking THAT wine? Interesting…” I don’t know if you could train the superiority complex out of people, but we ought to at least be able to keep our mouths shut.

    Then there are the really awful gleeful sadists. As I recall, according to some recent studies the majority of people don’t spend significant amounts of time being mean on the internet (although they may do it occasionally or have mean opinions that they don’t realize are mean, like “those people don’t belong in this country”). But there is a small minority of people who more process list trolling as their favourite hobby, and those people have a high rate of the so-called dark triad/tetrad traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and maybe sadism). All of which is to say that most of the really mindbogglingly awful stuff IS being said by the same few people running from blog to vlog to article being cruel.

    Of course, the negativity expressed by the less awful majority is worse in that we ought to be able to expect better of those people. I don’t know what the answer is. Hopefully the next generation comes to the internet with the expectation that they’re talking to real people with feelings, like anti-bullying programme aim to teach, but that’s definitely an uphill battle given some of the OTHER messages they’ll be hearing.

  9. Yes, yes, YES to everything you just said. I would also like to add that my main problem with these trolls/haters/bullies is that, the moment someone calls out on them for being straight up mean and horrible, they say they can’t be shut up because of “freedom of speech”. Well, if Sartre said that your freedom ends where the freedom of others starts, then your “freedom of speech” (that you use as an excuse to go around abusing people, thinking it’s justifying what you do) ends where the feelings of others start. Or where your respect for others starts. Since these bullies seem not to have smallest bit of respect or empathy for others (maybe they weren’t taught that growing up, maybe they never learnt. Maybe the needed to be respected and understood but no one did and now they’re taking out on the rest of the world), they think their “freedom of speech” never ends. And that’s when problems arise. When you think you’re completely free, you think nothing can stop you and you just go around doing what you want, not caring about consequences.
    I’ll stop here before my ranting gets out of hand

  10. I don’t have a blog, use instagram and very rarely tweet, so haven’t had personal comments that have upset me. I have, however, made a comment on the recent US rapist who only served three months in jail, and it was pointed out to me, by me nephew, that he was disappointed that I had added my voice as this young man had been punished (still don’t think it was enough). That case and Chad Evans have both really disturbed me and I worry about the future for women with such mindless men abou and how the “justice” system works. However, my experience of the world is that people are overwhelmingly kind, with one exception and he shall remain nameless.

    Don’t be despondent about things others say, if they cared for you, they wouldn’t say it. The internet does provide a separation between a correspondent and their target, that allows a dehumanising effect. It is so easy to believe the bad stuff, but why should you care about what such a person says about you, in a throwaway comment. It says nothing about you, but a lot about them.

  11. What has also disturbed me is the rhetoric used in the US presidential campaign, and the venomous posts people have made on social media. I am glad I am not American.

  12. I’m sorry for all the evil in the world. Unfortunately the internet gives more of those people access to you. I think it’s what turned me off to Twitter. You are a lovely person. I know it’s impossible to completely ignore the negatibe people. Just know that the majority are thinking and wishing you good things.

  13. I understand this so very much that it brings tears to my eyes. It’s everything from Kim Ks robbery (what the fuck is wrong with people?!) to the US Presidential Election. I have really wanted to just go offline for a while now… I have even thought about deactivating my Facebook for a few months because I just really don’t want to see how many cruel hearts are in this world. When I posted on my blog about my disappointment in humanity over Kim’s nightmare-come-reality, I actually quoted quite a few comments on the post… and they were all from my local news station’s Facebook page. These are the people whom you stand in line with at the grocery store! It certainly does make me wonder when I am out, “Is it you?!” Anyway, people are so negative and it makes me so sad, that really, I just want to go in a cave and heal for a while. I don’t know. Perhaps it is better to try and set a good example…. spread a little light in the world, but it’s really very hard, isn’t it?

    You are right though, it can really be anyone. My own mother dismissed my trying to tell her about an incident when I was touched inappropriately just so she could defend a certain troll running for the president of the United States. I have heard such mean, hateful things from my family that I cannot believe these are the same people I grew up with…

    In the meantime, I’ve been trying to read books I love and practice photography. It helps.

  14. A friend and I had a similar conversation today. After doing a bit of shopping, and having a couple of drinks and a catch up, we realised how many people are so glued to their phones that they can’t put them down for two seconds to acknowledge their server… It’s like they forget they’re a real person and not some sort of servant or robot. The faceless online/telephone rudeness is starting in real life – and it was all young women! My friend and I came to the conclusion that instead of national service, everyone should be made to do national service, but instead of being in the army, it should be a year of customer services!

  15. It’s awful isn’t it? All the hatred I mean. What has bred it, is it the internet? The economy? Why? I’m with you. I would never go onto a blog or Twitter or anywhere and ‘hate’ on people. Well, I would make an exception for Donald Trump, but mostly I just don’t understand the nastiness. X

  16. Great words Amber !!! The internet the mask that people feel they can hide behind …not a lit different to this horrid clown craze too … Having something to hide behind really does show the worst side of human nature. I’m so sorry you are exposed to this …it makes me sad That we are capable of such mean and cold behaviour !!
    We studied this at college … There was an experiment when human ‘public’. Had to press a button to hurt another human ….under different conditions … Behind a screen .. Out of sight .. Out if earshot .. And so on!!! Just pressing the button and not seeing the effect on the ‘subject’ showed a pretty grim side to Jo public !

    Let’s bring back nice!!!! And.. If you can’t say something nice; don’t say anything at all !!!

    We love you Amber !! I’m pretty sure we are all on the leave Kim be team too xxxxx

  17. This is honestly something I ponder all the time as well, and was great to read an article that brought voice to what I’ve been thinking! Funny enough, my hubby’s advice was to “just stop reading the comments section” because really, what good ever comes of it? I have to admit, that it helps a lot to skip reading them!! But, of course, the fact of the matter remains the same, the issue is that these are people all around us every day, who say these things. I try not to let the negativity overshadow the good of the internet, but it does just make me so sad! Just that there is so much hate out there, and how nasty people can be to each other. I just have to keep remembering that no truly happy person sits at their computer and spews hate, and it helps me to have compassion that so many people must be suffering and be so miserable. And that IS sad too. It seems like miserable people want to snuff out any joy around them. Love your blog though, and hope you never let the haters get the best of you! 🙂 I think it’s worth it to try and shine a little light into the world, even though it can be tough!

  18. Freedom of speech brings personal responsibility to the table when offering ‘honest’ opinions. I am not an American, but I am pretty certain that the First Amendment does not extend to calling people fat or stupid, using racist language or threatening bloggers with rape. Or that the Founding Fathers had that in mind when they wrote the US Constitution! I am free to comment on a politician’s self-serving behaviour, but I’m not free to abuse him/her in the the grounds of his/her gender, race, orientation, physical ability etc or threaten the safety of them or their family. It’s amazing that some people don’t get that!

    I read through the Kim Kardashian comments, and while I can in no way be described as an admirer I tweeted my disgust that there were people saying how great it was she’d been robbed at gunpoint. Having experienced a ‘mere’ street robbery, which was enough to put me off venturing out in and around the part of London I once lived after dark for some time, I can only speculate on the terror she felt. Shame on the bullying comments flying through cyberspace.

    And over the past two years in the UK I’ve seen vitriol hurled around Facebook on three occasions: after the Scottish Referendum, the General Election of 2015 and the recent EU Referendum. Nasty, nasty comments solely because of different opinions. How much further could we all get if we simply took a step back and asked each other what we thought instead?

  19. I’ve been in retail 16 years so I feel your pain! It’s also why I think everyone should have to work in customer service for at least a year after they get out of school. We’d have more empathy for the people who work as cashiers, waitresses, or in call centers or fast food. We’d remember that they are actual human beings! Maybe it would even make the internet a better place!

  20. Haaa, I’ve just finished writing a very similar post to this after last week having a couple of guys commenting on an Instagram photo. When I tweeted about it I had some people who I didn’t know basically tell me to get over it, it’s the internet and I should expect people to write bad things if I’m posting photos in public. Wonderful world we live in, eh?

    Corinne x

  21. Hear, hear! It never ceases to amaze me how downright rude (never mind nasty) people can be on the Internet. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions but it is possible to express them in a civil manner and respect those that others have!

    Sarah

  22. I despair sometimes, courtesy and good manners seem to be in short supply. I think being passive aggressive has become the norm.

  23. I recently witnessed an online community wither and die due to trolls. It was a beautiful, welcoming Glasgow based forum where people helped each other, supported each other, had a bit of banter and a bit of a laugh – in fact I even met my boyfriend through it! However, the trolls came in and all of a sudden this warm environment full of likeminded people became cynical and bitter. We all asked them to stop, but as they say “don’t feed the trolls!”. Within a few weeks this community died completely because of these horrible people, and the worst part is, as you say, they look like the rest of us and they think it’s perfectly okay to act in this way because “it’s just the internet! Get over it! Don’t take it to heart! Stop whining!” completely forgetting that the internet isn’t just the internet – it’s our jobs, our lives, our passions shared with the world. It’s why we blog isn’t it? To share ourselves and our dreams with the world in a way humanity has never been able to before – the internet is creating communities and bringing people together.
    That’s not just something to “get over!” but something to embrace.
    shortcutecompactblog.wordpress.com

  24. I agree so much! It also upsets me when I read some of the horrible things people write on comments on articles/whatever. Like I see a perfectly nice photo of some celebrity minding their own business and there will be all these horrible people commenting that so and so looks fat/old/ugly etc. I’m not a fan of the kardashians but I would never wish anything bad upon them and also am surprised at some of the horrible things people say. Sometimes I think it comes from people who are insecure who pick other people apart to feel better about themselves.

  25. I agree with everything you’ve said, and it really does make me so sad and ashamed to live in world where this type of behaviour is ‘normal’ or even ‘acceptable’. I genuinely feel embarrassed! I don’t get it personally, because I would never want to put someone down and make them upset because the very thought of that makes me upset myself! I am a firm believer in lifting people up and making them feel good about themselves, because life really is too short to not compliment people – whether that be the ones you do know or the ones you see on social media, or even the ones walking past you on the street! It feels much better to leave someone a nice comment rather than a negative and nasty one. I wish there was a mute button for negativity, but unfortunately there isn’t. I’m also so sorry that you receive horrible comments because you seem like a genuinely lovely and funny person who doesn’t deserve to be made to feel upset! I hope this post receives a lot of attention because it deserves to and everyone needs to read it xo

    Char | http://www.charslittleblog.blogspot.co.uk

  26. I think about this a lot. Especially because I have been that person yelling at the call center lady or whatever. I won’t say I am speaking for everyone else but for me its just helplessness and the fact that till I am actually yelling you don’t seem to be taking me seriously. I was recently very rude to someone who had taken payment for a job which was to be completed in a month and its been 6 months now! One month after I yelled about it the job was done. It really seemed like this person was not taking me seriously till I yelled. But at the same time, saying I will break your legs etc is bizarre and criminal. You can show your displeasure without being a horrible person – these are two exclusive things! I cant believe someone could speak like that. I have been shocked with the whole KK reaction as well. If you hate her so much why do you care!

    1. Interesting: I can’t speak for all call centre workers, either, but where I worked, the people who yelled and screamed tended to be the ones who *didn’t* get helped: I would go out of my way to help the people who were polite, and who treated me like a human being, but the ones who screamed at me went to the bottom of the pile!

  27. ‘BE NICE’ should be plastered on every internet page!! It is indeed one of the worst things about social media, it makes me sad that there are so many bullies out there.

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