My first post on the Huffington Post was about the problems with Ivy League athletics and the reasons why such large numbers of athletes have chosen to quit their respective varsity teams. It was somewhat controversial, and it sparked intense debate among my college community, my peers on Facebook and perhaps in many other circles of which I am unaware.
What was interesting, though, was the influx of private messages I received from friends, peers and strangers alike. Some were from athletes who had quit varsity athletics, while others were from people who had starred on their teams for all four years, but identified with the injustices I described. They thanked me for expressing these crucial issues, starting a dialogue that could potentially lead to changes in the system, and giving a voice to the numerous Ivy League athletes who feel that they deserve more in return for their commitments. A few of my Facebook friends felt compelled to repost the article and publicize their support of my viewpoint.
Not all of my readers' reactions were positive, though. Full disclosure, I experienced cyber bullying -- in the form of personal attacks on me as a person, and an athlete -- from a student athlete I dated for a brief period of time. I also dealt with two student athletes' nasty and insulting comments on my personal Facebook page. Someone anonymously sent me a patronizing email. I also received five or so negative comments on the actual Huffington Post article.
There were zero positive ones.
This was quite a conundrum for me. If so many people had privately expressed appreciation for the article I had written, why did none of them choose to say it publicly? Why were the only public comments negative ones?
That is when I realized that the Internet and the new media have created an environment where people can say whatever they want, without having to possess the bravery to say it to someone's face, and without the fear of repercussions. People do not even have to publish their names when they express comments that are insulting, close-minded and hateful. These are just some of the reasons why the ratio of negative to positive comments online is quite slanted.
If you do not believe me, go onto tripadviser.com or yelp.com. Whether rating a hotel, a restaurant, hairdresser, a cleaning service or a doctor, people with negative experiences seem much more willing to share their criticisms. Occasionally, people with really positive experiences will endorse a place, but those with average to good experiences seem to almost never post online.
The result is a cyber atmosphere that displays an unrepresentative amount of negativity. Not only does this hurt people's feelings and allow for cyber-bullying to take place with little consequence, but it hurts businesses and services that depend on their online publicity to succeed.
Maybe next time you have a positive experience somewhere, rave about it online. If you appreciate an article that a writer has shared, express your approval publicly. Others need your cyber support, perhaps solely to even out the criticism that they receive from the members of the Internet community who resort to anonymous, malicious comments.
Conversely, if you feel strongly against a restaurant, hairdresser or an article, take a minute to think about whether your criticisms are constructive, or just plain hurtful or personal. Ask yourself, "What will the effect of my comment be?" If you feel its content will truly benefit other readers, then by all means, post.
The Internet allows us to take actions without thinking about them beforehand. It is time to start thinking. The words we say online do have an effect, and we need to consider that when posting.
Follow Jennie Shulkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JenniferShulkin