Never read the comments

harassment community social media  -  2015-10-27
Kittens, because we all needs some cuteness for this post
Kittens! by Sy / CC BY-NC-CA 2.0

You may, or may not, have noticed that I have been fairly absent from social media as of late. I think it is important to share why I have taken a break from most social media— and my plans for the future. There are a variety of reasons I ended up making the decision, but the most poignant can be summed up with the bit of advice “never read the comments.”

This is certainly not a new topic, nor one that has an easy solution to make the internet better. I can find countless examples online of people who are tired of having to emotionally fight for common decency to be observed on the internet. From a developer who left the Linux community, to others who have left Twitter— online harassment has been around for a long time.

The amount of vitriol on the internet is tiresome, and is not limited to any section of the internet. You could post a video to YouTube of adorable puppies, something that most people would just respond with an “awwwww”— and you will STILL find people throwing insults at each other. Reading the comment section of almost anything becomes an emotional trip, where too many people write merely to get a rise out of others.

Twitter is a naturally more open platform, defaulting to public conversations. And while that is wonderful for many things, including open source development, it also gives rise to more disgusting, hate-filled speech. It is not uncommon to find threads where innocent topics turn into a roller coaster of attacks, or even just baiting to try and get an emotionally charged response.

This is further compounded by the fact that many smaller voices can use bots or fake accounts to amplify their speech even further. While in the physical world, a small number of radical voices are usually drowned out by the majority— the same is not true on the internet. The radical voices can create a host of accounts who can target, harass, and emotionally drain a target. Even when the target is not yourself, but somebody you admire, respect, or even loathe— seeing that take place is harmful for everybody on the internet.

This is where I am today: I have spent too much time reading the comments. I have spent too much seeing replies of tweets or posts of people I admire and respect— only to be horrified at the responses. I have had my emotions pulled when I see the hate-filled speech, the taunting, the baiting, and the vitriol. I am done with it.

So I took a break from it all.

Today, I am slowly getting back into the world of social media. I will be looking at Twitter, replying occasionally when people tweet at me— but I will not be spending large amounts of time on it. I will be avoiding the comment section anywhere I can. I hope to still be there for any friends, or strangers, who are the targets of online harassment. I know I have, and probably will again, fail at being the “good guy”— and I hope that those I know and trust keep me honest online.

But there is one last thing that frightens me more than anything. Seeing these instances of harassment happening online scares me. Not just because I see what the mob on the internet can do, but because I know that even writing this post puts a light on me for online harassment. Today alone even SXSW cancelled two sessions on online harassment, due to threats of violence. Just in preparation for this blog post I have updated several of my primary passwords, and moved domains to more secure locations. It might be all unnecessary precautions, but I am not here to take the chance of that.

I do not know how we can make the internet a more warm and inviting place— and combat the presence of online harassment. All I know is that I can promise to be better, I can promise to help the communities I am involved in to be better— and I can call out friends and colleagues to be better. I will strive to be a better citizen of the internet, will you?


Never read the comments. Update your passwords. Be excellent to each other.

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