I'm not a social media hater. I like it. I've been blogging for over 11 years. I was an early adopter to both Facebook and Twitter. But I have to admit that I am weary of how hateful the general tone of online conversation has become. It has me wondering why. Here are my best guesses. Feel free to comment about how stupid I am at the end of the article.
1. It's safe.
Basically, it's 24/7 virtual road rage. You can say whatever you want because 99 percent of the time nobody is going to do anything about it. It's a pain to actually get out of your car and start a fistfight with the dude who cut you off -- it's even more of a hassle to find the address of the jerk in Topeka who tweeted something insensitive about your favorite ice cream flavor.
2. It's power.
It's a turn on to get people's attention -- especially people we perceive more popular or powerful than ourselves. Negativity always gets more attention than positivity.
3. It's fun.
For some people anyway. I was bullied in 8th grade. Those kids seemed to really enjoy the process. My pain gave them great joy. It's the same thing -- except they are grown up now and hiding like sissies behind smartphones and tablets. (Was that mean? Sorry.)
4. It's war.
We seem to need enemies to feel like we are a part of something bigger than us. Democrats and Republicans can hate on each other in the virtual world without risking actual physical harm. (Cross reference Aaron Burr for how it used to work.) Same for Christians and Atheists. Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. Miley Cyrus and most everyone else. You get the idea.
5. It's free.
Why pay to be entertained when you can stir up trouble for the cost of broadband? Being mean is sometimes a byproduct of good old-fashioned boredom. By and large I have found that bored human beings are very dangerous creatures.
6. It's ignorance.
Most mean people online seem to not ever think about the people or groups they are attacking. I've been personally attacked online by people whom I am sure have no idea that I would or could ever see what they said about me. My hunch is they wouldn't say it to my face. Avatars have feelings too, you know.
7. It's comforting.
When we hate we join voices with other haters. It feels good to belong. The Internet allows mob mentality to continually exist in every comment section. Company loves misery.
8. It's arrogance.
If you know the truth, you have to let the world know even if it stings a little, right? Tell them for their own good. It's the Simon Cowellization of society.
9. It's primal.
It doesn't take long for an online argument to devolve to sexual harassment -- especially when a man attacks a woman. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a whore. True fact.
10. It's natural.
Ultimately we are mean because we are mean. It's not a recent problem for humankind. This new façade we've constructed and draped over reality called the Internet just removes some of the immediate physical consequences of our self-centered behavior. But the emotional consequences remain as they always have. We fall into cycles of hate, revenge and dehumanization.
It may be a natural impulse for us to lash out when we are angered, but we can control it. We are remarkable creatures capable of training our minds and souls to react in love, patience, kindness, self-control and hope. Try it out next time you want to hate. It may go a lot better for everyone involved. Or at least don't "like" that next marginally racist/misogynist/elitist "funny" piece of bad art that pops up in your newsfeed. It's mean. And deep down I really believe we are all better than that. Or at least we can get there. One tweet at a time.