March 1st, 2012 by Tommy McConnell


Why is it so easy to be a jerk online?

"Grrrr..."

Exhibit A:  On YouTube, a little girl records and publishes a video of herself singing the refrain to I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston. This video has gotten almost 12 million views, but not because viewers were impressed. Not only does the title of the video crudely insult her singing, but so do the >55,000 comments made by viewers. Commenters also do not seem to mind dishing out insults about the little girl’s appearance. Now, this kid cannot be any older than 12 years old. What would happen if this girl had sang a few feet in front of each of these people? Would they say things to her like:

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“you cant sing you should give up while you can cuz you cant singing and screeming its gonna f**** kill your voice worse than it is lol”RoxyLoveYouBabe

Roxy should give up grammar and spelling while she still can.

“please kill yourself… alll people hate you!!!” – RIKISCREAMO1200

This music critique comes from someone who enjoys “screamo”.

“oh my god shut the hell up she is a crazy fat girl who needs medical attention!” – MrJasontheawesome

 Yes, MrJason, because awesome people insult kids on the internet.

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I’m willing to bet a hundred puppies these things would never be said to her face. In fact, I think they would smile and clap politely. People generally would not say such terrible things directly to others, so why are they able to do it online? Why is it so easy for them to be jerks, and why was it so easy for me to make fun of them in this blog entry?

Anonymity

"I'm so clever!"

Obscurity gives us courage. When you can hide behind aliases like RIKISCREAMO1200 and MrJasontheawesome, what’s stopping you from saying whatever you want? There is no accountability. Now, if RIKISCREAMO1200 were forced to use his real name, perhaps Richard S. Screamo, would he be as brave to insult her? And if MrJasontheawesome had to go by Jason McAwesome, would he still feel so inclined to call her a “crazy fat girl”? No, because in that case this girl’s dad could possibly find him and punch him in his face.

When you insult someone, and they know who you are, you have to live with the fact that that person knows what you said to them. Not what some random person on the internet said, what you said. You are accountable. And on the web, you are not accountable.

Invisibility

"Did you say something?"

“You can’t see meee na na na na naaaa naaaa!”  In most online places, people cannot see you. Unless you provide a profile picture of some kind, your appearance is a total mystery. Other users typically don’t even know you are there until you say something, and when you do they cannot see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice. What’s more, nobody can insult your looks in response to your callous remarks.

Another notable point about invisibilty is that you can’t see them. If you say something horrific to someone in person, one of three things will happen:  yelling, sobbing, or physical violence. When you say something horrific to someone on the internet, nothing happens. All is quiet on the web-stern front (ha.) The other person may write something back, but you don’t hear the sting of their tone or that angry look in their eyes. You’re safe from any emotional repercussions.  In Exhibit A,  the people who commented on the little girl’s video could not see her cry from their hateful words, so they continued to say what they wanted.

Time to think

If you’re like me, you usually don’t come up with a good comeback until an hour or two after an argument. What the internet does is gives you that chance to think before you are expected to say anything.

I’m not sure how much brain capacity was actually being used by the commenters in Exhibit A (I’m fairly certain it wasn’t much), but in any online venue there is extra time to think about what you are going to say. It’s not like real life when someone is waiting for your response immediately. For example:

Husband: “When have I ever rolled my eyes at you???”

Jill: “Oh come on! Remember when … that thing … route 76 … Cinnabon… meh, you win.”

If we had this conversation on the internet, I would have time to document every incident of eye rolling in the past 5 years. Heck I could have probably whipped up a pretty extensive spreadsheet. The internet makes it very easy for us to come up with the most stinging remarks possible, because we have that time to think. We don’t have to be quick-witted, like in real life (how convenient).

 

Are online jerks really being themselves?

Are all of those commenters really as heartless, belittling and mean as they appear to be online? There is no straight answer. The best we can say is some yes, some no. Many people use the internet to release repressed feelings they cannot express in person. Some people use it just to be someone they are typically not, in order to break from their boredom with their own true personality. In other words, the are being who they want to be rather than who they are.

Why someone would want to be mean to a little girl trying to sing? My best guess is they are experiencing some kind of personal hurt, and as they say, “Misery loves company.”

 

References
Suler, J. “The Online Dishibition Effect”  June 1, 2004.
http://users.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/disinhibit.html

Gheorghe, Adina. “Why Is Everyone So Mean These Days?” February 2, 2006.
http://news.softpedia.com/news/Why-is-everyone-so-mean-these-days-17895.shtml

Tan, Elisha. “Why Are People Rude Online” September 21, 2010.
http://www.penn-olson.com/2010/09/21/why-are-people-rude-online

YouTube. “Can’t Sing Psycho Girl Freaks Out When She Can’t Hit The Right Notes!!!”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2xzWbRwOio.


2 responses to “Mean People and the Internet”

  1. […] way easier to be mean to people online, as I’ve discussed before in a previous post (Mean People and the Internet), but man. It really stings on Facebook. It’s not like posting in an anonymous blog, where […]

  2. sarah says:

    This was so true. I laughed a bit at the part about what the people wrote. How they can not spell and all that jazz. I have tried to find that girl online because unlike others I thought she was brave. Yes I admit her screaming scared me but I understand it was not intentional. I really wish more people like you would understand how mean these kids are.

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