Safer Internet Day & Better Online Conflict Etiquette for Everyone

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One of the scenarios I most often get asked to work through with participants at my training or coaching sessions is dealing with conflict online.  The internet has become its own unique platform for conflict and it is particularly ugly.

Conflict on the internet can feel extra intense, vulnerable, (and humiliating) because of how large the audience can be and how fast information can circulate (and turn into abstracted gossip or fake news). People seem to forget any de-escalation skills they may have, and disagreements quickly turn into vicious reactive dog-piling.

My assumption is that the reason I get asked to work through this particular scenario so often is because everyone has likely gotten some level of cancelled on the internet. We’ve all probably posted something that put us on the receiving end of angry comments, friend/follower loss, etc that made us feel incredibly scared and disposable.

I love the internet but I hate watching conflict unfold on it. I often find it is just too tragic.

What really boggles my mind though is how much we’re willing to step into online internet dog-piling on complete strangers or even our own friends to be honest, but how little we are willing to intervene in instances of unfair dog-piling or online bullying. From instances of seeing someone get bombarded by a hundred mean comments from strangers because they said the wrong thing to more extreme stories such as those of teenage girls, Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons who died by suicide after facing such intense levels of online shaming and harassment.

People rarely step in to intervene or de-escalate. Why is that?

I think it’s because of many things, mostly fear, but also perpetuating and condoning violence that we are taught to normalize (misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc). Conflict on the internet, because of its detachment from face to face or in person experience, has created even more desensitization to violence because of how bombarded we are by it daily.

But since fighting on the internet isn’t going anywhere, here are some suggestions, from me,  for better online conflict etiquette. Please check yourself on the internet. It’s sometimes really embarrassing, but also sometimes you might be causing someone a lot of harm (whether from your engagement or your silence).

So here are my etiquette suggestions for fighting on the internet. These work for those on either end of online disputes.

Fight that urge to fix.

That’s right, I’ve said it before, and she’s back!

People think they need to respond right away. But on the internet that means that for every comment you post, a hundred replies can instantly follow. It’s overwhelming and deescalation can get out of control really fast. You do not need to respond to all comments right away. Everyone take a deep breath before pressing send and think about whether you are in a place to currently engage. You can go back and watch my urge to fix video and/or read the rush to fix infographic on my instagram for more information on what it means and looks like.

Remember there is an actual person on the other end of this exchange

Unless you are dealing with trolling or a bot, there is actually another person on the other side of your conversation who is likely not trying to be malicious. What you say or do will have actual effects on them. Please think about that before you comment/post. Would you say this to their face in the way you are currently saying it? If not, then can you rephrase your comment? Is your comment meant to shame, blame or hurt someone or is it meant to try and bring forth a dialogue?

Read the previous comments

Has what you want to say already been said and responded to? Are you adding anything new or useful to the pool or are you just dog-piling? Those comments are often really unhelpful and just add to someone’s stress levels and increase the likelihood of even more reactivity from all involved.

Catch your judgments

What do you really know about the situation or the person/people involved? Have you already come to your own conclusions with no room for dialogue? When you don’t actually want to have a dialogue with someone you often just let your judgements and reactions do the talking. I’ve seen so many instances where people attack someone for not knowing something ‘woke’ as if they never made a mistake in their lifetime. Do some background research first and check your motivations. Also be humble and remember that perfectionism isn’t possible and is a component of shame.

Remember your de-escalation skills

Remember those de-escalation skills? Can you bring them into this conversation? They work on the internet, too! How can you minimize reactivity and dog-piling, and instead try to promote dialogue and opportunity for learning?

Internet fighting can be seriously vicious. Obviously, everyone has different capacities and sometimes public callouts have their place (that’s for a different post). My only ask is that before you drag someone, consider if there are other steps you could try first (a private message, some research, reaching out in person, sending some links, de-escalating so dialogue can eventually happen, etc) and give those a chance. Also, if you see bullying happen online, say something or tell someone. If you’re ever unsure what to do and need some guidance on how to navigate conflict on the internet or online bullying, you can contact me for a coaching session where we can work through it together.

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