Some of the earliest TV reports on the internet noted that it was place where people treated each other with respect. You can watch these early clips on YouTube, they generally the feature bearded engineers conversing politely of the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). But you only have to look at YouTube comments underneath the videos to see that things have changed quite a bit since then.
In fact, it seems like the more people that have come online, the more abuse has become prevalent. Just a few days ago a UK minister announced that internet trolls might find themselves spending up to two years in jail. It seems as though this problem isn’t going away, in fact, if anything it’s getting worse.
Now, I feel fairly confident that many readers of the Orange Dot blog don’t regularly commit illegal offenses on social media, but I know that, from time-to-time, it’s possible to get carried away with the crowd. When we feel a sense of injustice about something in the world, it’s even easier to be borne along with the tide. The combination of a groundswell of feeling and anonymity can sometimes be a little intoxicating. People often end up saying things online, that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face.
We may even feel like our outrage is justified. But when we feel angry about something, and we post that anger to social media, are we really doing anything more than fuelling that anger, both in ourselves, and in the world at large? It’s a bit like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring petrol all over it. Whatever the cause of conflict, if we deliberately reinforce that thinking, and hold on to that emotion, then we will find no rest, no clarity, no empathy or forgiveness, all we’ll have is anger.
Letting go of the anger in no way denies the existence of suffering, or takes anything away from our ability to help those in need. On the contrary, it gives us the freedom to act skillfully to work toward peace and reconciliation.
Anger generates anger, that’s especially true online. Just think about it, the chances are if you’ve left an angry comment, you’ll get an angry response. Over the course of the day your mind will return to it again and again and there’s a cost to your peace of mind. Not to mention the fact that one angry interaction will generate another, and another. You can imagine them spreading through social media in the course of a day.
This is the final installment for our Technology: The Middle Way season, so I’m really happy to be able to end on a really simple positive suggestion, and that is to remember to communicate kindly. Technology gives us the power to extend our interactions further than we ever could before, perhaps further than ever in human history. It’s possible to get in touch with hundreds, even thousands of people, in just a second. And so it comes back to our intention. The internet provides us with the opportunity to turn our meditation in to action, a platform to help improve the lives of others. We make the choice every time we log in whether to embrace that opportunity. So play nice, communicate kindly, and gracefully side-step the rest.