Someone is mean on the internet

I have not felt like blogging lately. But today I am out of sorts and it is not because of The Franchise, it is because people are mean to each other on the internet.

There are not many topics that generate as much vitriol and animosity as climate change does. Why is this the case? I really don’t know. I am new to these discussions but I am starting to see they contain the same characters arguing similar things with each other over and over again in a sort of endless Groundhog Day. This has been going on for many years now. People have cemented their views of each other and patterns of behaviour have become entrenched. Hopefully I am still new enough for this not to have happened to me.

Something that particularly bothered me yesterday was to witness someone defend another on Twitter, only to himself become the subject of abuse by the person he was defending. Here are a couple of tweets which probably won’t mean much to people who do not follow the discussions, but I want to post them anyway.

and this:

I will not say anymore about it other than this is my way of acknowledging something I felt was unfair.

It would be nice if people could disagree with each other without having to hurl verbal abuse their way and if they misunderstand something, to ask for clarification. And also to apologise for hasty judgements made in error.

51 responses to “Someone is mean on the internet”

  1. I refuse to have anything directly to do with Twitter or Facebook because of trolls, who hide behind a fake name and think they can say whatever they like.

    I always use my real name when I post on the internet because I’m not a coward and not ashamed of what I say because I am not disrespectful. If someone doesn’t share my views I respect that no matter how much I disagree.

    Do not despair Rachel! Today was a small beginning for the preservation of the planet Earth. The British PM and other ministers acknowledged that global warming is affecting our climate and is at least a contributory factor in our extreme weather conditions which have continued to cause havoc in the UK.

    This is a breakthrough and we have people like you to thank for doggedly drawing attention to it when so many people have been in denial. Thank you!

    • Mary,
      Thanks so much for your comment! I did not know that the British PM made an acknowledgement like this. I will go and have a look. But it is nice to hear some good news and if breakthroughs are happening, then it is really nothing to do with me. But thank you for your kind words.

  2. I saw a post recently on FB about the focus that age can sometimes bring, but unfortunately not always, as to the most appropriate response to vitriolic interchange between individuals. Realizing that life was short (he was an older man) he said that he now actively avoids those who wish to argue pointlessly and selfishly, and those who apparently enjoy slinging insults, in favour of those who value curtesy and enjoy respectful interchange of ideas no matter how different and novel. I am not sure how he would respond to a really silly idea, perhaps just ignore it!

    • I’m not sure what role age plays in the discussions about climate change. There seem to be a range of ages and a range of people from different places and backgrounds. It’s just a topic that seems to generate strong feelings.

  3. Yes, it is too bad people can’t be more civil on the internet. Some are just bullies who can hide behind anonymity to attack others. There are some who are paid to discourage civil discussion about climate science. On websites, it should be up to the moderator or administrator to discourage personal attacks, but on twitter and Facebook it seems anything can be said.

    I hope your writers block goes away soon, as I enjoy your articles and pictures.

    • I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoy my articles and pictures. I’m sure I will be back to my old self before too long. It has been a bit of a culture shock being back in NZ.

      I don’t use Facebook anymore and I’m quite glad of that. They have a very strange moderation policy although twitter probably isn’t much better. Almost anything can be said there although I think it is possible to report abusive tweets.

  4. I had one experience where something I said in jest was taken so totally out of context that I stopped participating. I posted about it in I Think I was Bitch Slapped. If I see a follower doing this, I immediately unf. I have better things to do with my time. BTW it is also why I find that FB is totally useless.

    I didn’t let it faz me, once I had let off steam in the post (search BS on my Life blog), I moved on.
    But it does leave a nasty taste.


  5. I think polite discourse with respect to climate change is nearly impossible for a very simple reason.

    When we generally have opinions we filter it against our internal “wordlview” (faith, philosophy ethics, morals,. …), and it is perfectly valid for two people to disagree because both may be right according to their respective “worldview”. This is the reason we have debates, elections, referendum, etc.

    However, when it comes to climate change we are not discussing policy, which would be quite healthy and have room for different ideas and opinions (and disagreeing politely), instead there are consistent attacks on casting doubt on the science itself which is not a matter of debate but a matter of collecting and explaining facts and observations, completely independent of your own “worldview”, i.e. it is not a matter of opinions and debate.

    The problem is that the vocal deniers can never substantiate their claims, such as pointing to other studies, so they are only left with handwaving and abusive language to defend their misinformation.These people seem to believe that science is a matter of opinion and can be rejected because they dislike it.

    So, although attacks and bad language may occur in any subject matter, there is at least hope for polite discourse, except with climate change when the science is being attacked. I hope we soon can start a real discussion on policies instead of pointless denial, we are running out of time.

    • plg,

      I agree that there is more room for differing ideas and opinions when it comes to discussions about policy rather than discussions about science. I have certainly seen a fair amount of verbal abuse come from contrarians, some of it even directed at me. But I have also seen it come from those who I would describe as being on my side of the discussions. This is really why I wrote this post. I felt disappointed by some of the comments I read from people on my team and I also felt disappointed with myself for watching it happen.

      It would be nice if we could start to have some productive debates about policy. I agree that this is where the real discussion should be.

      • Short version: Q: How can you tell apart pseudoskeptics and climate scientists?
        A: Pseudoskeptics are terrified of being proven wrong, scientist would be overjoyed at being proven wrong.

        (Proven wrong in the second case means finding an alternate model that explains the known facts, and does not point to the terrible future we now are heading for. Unlikely is probably a too weak word, improbable? Certainly nothing we can hope for and nothing any sane person would bet on, especially not our collective future.)

  6. This seems like a good solution to your dilemma 🙂

    It would be nice if people could disagree with each other without having to hurl verbal abuse their way and if they misunderstand something, to ask for clarification. And also to apologise for hasty judgements made in error.

    I agree and since I understand some of the context, I think that this may have been one of that was trying to be illustrated, and it probably was, even if not everyone realised 🙂

      • Ok, sorry, I did not mean to make you feel guilty. I felt bad about it though, especially when I saw Shub’s second tweet. If he can see that someone is getting verbally abused then it must be bad. In any case, Willard is not bothered by it.

  7. Rachel – I don’t understand the twitter exchange. However, I agree that the internet is a hotbed of discourtesy and outright nastiness at times. I often read The Guardian online. There are the same old same old people who comment on just about every article and always with a good measure of vitriol thrown in.

    Unfortunately, climate change is one of those subjects that seems to attract more than its fair share of deniers. Apart from those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, it’s really difficult to understand a mindset that is so hell-bent on refusing to accept the views of just about every climate scientist on the planet. As far as I’m concerned, these people’s views are not based in logic and they consequently cannot be reasoned with.

    • Bronwyn,
      I should follow the comments on articles like the Guardian more often. I have recently been following comments on an article in the Conversation and the dialog has been quite heated at times and the abuse comes from both sides, not just from those I disagree with.
      I agree that someone who does not accept climate science is probably not someone worth discussing the topic with.

  8. I would say that is on purpose, it prevents a civilised debate which these people would lose. And it makes the climate debate unpleasant and in that way they prevent people from engaging and thinking about it.

    Given that they are not important in any way, I would simply block them. I did. It seemed to annoy them considerably, which is a great side effect.

    • It can be very unpleasant and certainly blocking them has been my normal response. I’m, however, currently engaged in an exchange in which the other person appears to have called me a “moron physisist”. So far, I’m finding it too funny to block them at this stage. It will likely, however, degenerate to the point at which that will indeed be the best course of action 🙂

      • I went and looked up your conversation about this and it looks like he’s called you a Nazi as well. I agree that sometimes they can be quite entertaining. I rather enjoyed the Rosa Klebb tweet about me.

    • I have not blocked anyone and I quite like knowing what is going on behind the scenes, so prefer to keep my contrarian twitter streams open. Twitter gave me some evidence for the sock puppet on the blog recently and so it was useful for that.

  9. I’ve been feeling the doldrums, too, and questioning the point. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the time for convincing is over, and now is the time for leading people through this mess.

    The world is going to need people like you to be a voice of reason and leadership when it starts to devolve like Syria. I know it is discouraging and disheartening to watch it unfold, but I also believe that it is people like you who will help us to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. So don’t give up! The world needs you!

    • Wow, CV Danes. I don’t know what to say to this except for thanks. I’m not giving up, not at all. I’m just trying to acknowledge that I let something through without intervening when I probably should have.

      • Good to know you’re not giving up. And if you’re getting the attention of the doubters, that means they must see you as a threat, which is a good thing in my book 🙂

  10. I do agree with all here, epecially these:-

    “Realizing that life was short (he was an older man) he said that he now actively avoids those who wish to argue pointlessly and selfishly, and those who apparently enjoy slinging insults, in favour of those who value curtesy” Max

    “But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the time for convincing is over, and now is the time for leading people through this mess”. C. V. Danes.

    I also appreciate all your efforts and how disapointing and hurtful some people can be..

    For myself, I take the attitude of not engaging with the time wasters. That is playing their game. Apart, perhaps, for a brief dignified rebuke I would rather go around them, pursuing a “what do we do now” approach. The more the debate is pro-active, the less the space and credibility available to those who prefer argument.

    It is sadly true, that many are in this because they enjoy causing disruption and the draining of others energies. This includes pretended argument and deliberating misconstruing others. It is their only sense of enjoyment and self worth. They desire attention. So, I suggest, one deprives them of it, and engage in the pro-active discussion excluding the rest as worthless (the one thing they can’t stand).

    Keep going. You have more quiete friends in this matter than noisy enemies. On the other hand don’t wear yourself out. Our world only slouches forward but it never stops, it never has. It’s somethiing embedded in our true nature. It keeps on being born and although slow is indomitable. Look how far we have come. Good luck always. Regards Graham 🙂

  11. I was thinking about this the other day, and was tempted to write up a blog post about dealing with aggressive people on the internet.

    I’ve been frequenting chat rooms and forums (fora?) for years now, and you see the same behaviour everywhere. Having a constructive debate between people with strongly opposing views is very rare on the internet, I think, because people become so easily entrenched in nit-picking, pedantry and one-upmanship. This type of discussion/argument is much more difficult when talking to face-to-face, because you don’t usually have the time to go off and look up some obscure fact to fit your argument, nor can you go over a statement countless times to find the smallest fault and mine it for all it’s worth.

    Secondly, a discussion persists on the internet, and because of its permanence people can keep going back to it and finding/taking offence at it, whereas in ‘real’ life most people will a) not be so rude to others face to face as (generally) folk want to avoid conflict and b) they’ll forget exactly what was said in minutes/hours/days.

    These are all excuses for people to act in a way which they would probably not do so if they were to meet face-to-face. I don’t believe anonymity makes much difference, since people who are anonymous can act cordially and those who don’t hide their identity can be arseholes.

    My defence to those who are unreasonable, stupid, aggressive, etc. is simply to ignore them. Most exchanges of this kind require fuel for the fire, and without the other person engaging it quickly goes out.

    All in my jumbled opinion anyway 😉

      • That’s amazing (the flappy bird saga)! What a strange reaction from the developer though: to remove the game all together. I guess it just got too much for him.

        And yes, it’s true that being able to go and dig up obscure facts is quite unique in internet discussions and probably makes the discussions move much faster than they would otherwise. Perhaps it also means that many points of discussion can be introduced at once and so things spiral out of control more quickly.

  12. Rachel,

    never really read your blog before, but this post struck a chord, although I don’t understand the context. Remember that posters are a self selected population and by definition are the most opinionated and outspoken, and actively enjoy arguing. Perhaps unlikely to be the best behaved subsection of humanity, therefore.

    There’s something about internet comment boards which brings out the worst in people – perhaps the safety of being at a remove from the recipient of their bad behaviour. The same is true of motorists, some of whom behave towards cyclists in a way they never would if not encased in metal.

    When I’m cycling I find I feel better about myself if I react well to badly behaved motorists. The same on internet comment threads to trolls. The only thing I do is call people out on their behaviour. If it doesn’t change, or remains permitted by moderators, I simply avoid the forum.

    Some people are just not very nice I’m afraid. I once had a motorist swerve across the road to throw a bottle at me and my 4 year old on a tandem.

    Even that isn’t as bad as abusive cyberstalking

    What can you do about all this? Challenge bad behaviour perhaps, but mostly just heep on being nice to people on the internet.

    • Thanks for your comment, VTG. Nice to see you on my blog!

      Challenge bad behaviour and be nice. That’s good advice. The Caroline Criado-Perez saga was awful and really quite astonishing. I think it might have even been worse than the stuff I’ve seen in climate change discussions.

      I had one motorist behave badly to me when I was cycling around York. It was a truck driver who wanted to play chicken. I got out of the way pretty quickly. Fortunately that was rare though and most motorists were really decent.

      • I must admit that I don’t know how people can bring themselves to say what they did to Caroline Criado-Perez. Similarly Laurie Penny and Helen Lewis (for example) also get this kind of treatment and I don’t know what kind of person thinks it’s remotely acceptable to say these kind of things.

  13. I’m, however, currently engaged in an exchange in which the other person appears to have called me a “moron physisist”.

    Doesn’t hold a candle to “unscientific f**kwit”.

  14. Rachel –

    I sometimes find all of this depressing. I find it far less depressing when I see this kind of behavior demonstrated by those on the “other side” (of any variety of issues, including climate change which I think falls in line with many other issues that serve as a proxy for larger ideological wars) than when I see it on “my side.”

    But I try to remind myself that this is all information. It is information about how people think, and how people disagree. It is information about human cognition and human psychology. It may be more obvious in Internet discussions, or perhaps exacerbated and magnified, but what we see in Internet discussions reveals underlying patterns of behavior. It can’t be changed. It is what it is (don’t you hate it when people say that?). BTW – when you ask a question within parentheses, where does the question mark go?

    It is also information because I willingly immerse myself in this phenomenon. I could easily life my life without doing so. I find that there is something of value in asking myself why I don’t.

    • Joshua,

      I find it far less depressing when I see this kind of behavior demonstrated by those on the “other side”

      I agree with you about this. It is far worse when the abuse comes from those I agree with especially people I might otherwise find myself defending.

      But it is just information and I guess it is also in some ways, fascinating and revealing.

    • Rachel’s post has made me think about how my view of this has changed in the past year or so. I used to get incredibly worked up about how some behaved, but now I just block and don’t really care. It is rather depressing, but I’ve just learned that there is a point beyond which there is no way back and you may as well just give up. It’s a sad reflection on some people’s behaviour, but there’s nothing I can do about that and there’s no real reason why I should have to put up with it.

      • AndThen,

        I used to get incredibly worked up about how some behaved, but now I just block and don’t really care.

        You sure?? I mean this is good if it is the case but today’s events have been testing. Having said that, I am not bothered by what has been happening on twitter today. It is really quite ridiculous and so in that sense, amusing.

  15. You’ve certainly sparked a mass of comments. Comments both supportive and insightful. Always nice to know that one is not alone. The neurosis (and it is that) of the others, leaves them out of that fellowship. It is their resentment, their drive and their punishment.

    Whilst it is sad that part of the world is like this. It does not become suddenly worse for recognising that it has always been there behind the curtains. The truth gives us more control and the world rolls on.

    Good post. It opened the other curtains that reveal the pursuits of hope and the truth of it’s existence. Wae aye 🙂

    If you would like to stamp your feet – Youtube – Why Aye Man- Mark Knopfler. 🙂

  16. Just read this Rachel, am catching up as usual, and it never fails to amaze me how quick people are to be so vitriolic and opinionated, especially when hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Everybody wants to shout but nobody wants to listen. Well, that is a generalisation obviously, but you know what I mean. I didn’t really understand the tweets but then I don’t do Twitter anyway. I have a small FB page linked to my blog as a way to post future updates as and when with my writing (if I ever get on with it!) and a small personal one too for some family and a few friends. That’s all I want.
    I hope you continue with your posts and don’t let the buggers get you down… 🙂

    • I’m not letting the buggers get me down. I was more annoyed with myself when I wrote this for letting comments through which should have been moderated.

      I don’t use FB anymore but I’m getting pressured by family and friends to rejoin. I want to resist though as there’s lots about FB that I dislike and I think there are better alternatives. Google circles for one and I do quite like Twitter. I was also a bit surprised by their recent decision to censor images of women breastfeeding while allowing images of beheadings.

      • That’s good. I have Google Circle but no links to anybody as I don’t know how! Maybe you could link up with me there! Yes, it is annoying when comments get through like that. I’ve had to send a few to spam lately, don’t know why Akismet isn’t doing it.
        That is not right by any stretch of the imagination…

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