Fighting Fair on the Internet: Part 3 | Opinions are Like…

OPINIONS ARE LIKE…

So we all know that old saying “Opinions are like a**holes, everybody has one.”  What they forgot to add to that sentence is “but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to, or should, see it…or what comes from it.”  Let’s face it…we all have read something online and thought that whatever opinion was proffered was probably best reserved for the proverbial toilet and then flushed. Yes, everyone forms opinion about things, situations, people, etc.  I totally get that and I think that everyone is entitled to their opinions – positive or negative!  The thing is…no one really gets upset or annoyed by opinions that are positive (“I love this idea!  I’m going to try it!”) so let’s talk poop (“How can you think like that?!  You are such a moron and I hope people like you die!”).  If any of you read Part 2 of this blog series you will understand a portion of my theory on why people would even say something like that; they have lost the human connection and consequently manners and respect right with it.

NEGATIVE OPINIONS ARE LIKE POOP:  Where this introduction fits into the whole “Fighting Fair on the Internet” topic is the discussion on what one does after forming a negative opinion about something.  Do you flush it to the turd Gods where the stench of it can never be seen or smelt where only you really know about it (a courtesy flush, if you will) or do you pull that turd out of the can, place it on a silver platter on your front lawn, take pictures of it, and send it to all of your friends, and their friends, and their friends’ friends to see the massive heap of fly attracting dung pile that it is (i.e., post it somewhere on the internet)?  At this point you are wondering if I am talking about negative opinions or poop and the answer is both.  We can all use a little humor and relatability when discussing topics like this.  Surely there are some instances where they are both useful and serve a purpose, but generally speaking, when spread around too much and too thick…the usefulness is overshadowed by the stink and flies that are attracted to it.  Ewww!

POOP CAN BE USED AS FERTILIZER:  I’m not suggesting that a certain degree of conflict and disagreement is bad.  Not all negative/differing opinions are unuseful.  Like the benefits of applying fertilizer to growing plants and crops, a certain amount of negative/differing opinions, if used properly, can help create and contribute to the free flow of worthwhile ideas and debate.  There is no value in stifling free speech and I think the First Amendment definitely has its place.  People should have the freedom of expression without oppression from government BUT that does not mean that people should use that as a license to be a “Richard”.  No offense to anyone named Richard.  If you consider that each person’s opinions is formed based upon their personal education, their experiences, their beliefs/faith and feelings you will then begin to understand, and perhaps appreciate, why opinions can vary so much.  Consider the stark difference in view points between the different political parties.  I think we can all agree that people’s opinions are all over the place when it comes to politics.  Nevertheless, it might be helpful to the greater cause and world of debate when a humanitarian who has worked with troubled youth in low income developments debates topics on poverty with a business person who operates within the same community that is trying to solve employment problems.  If people can come and debate issues with education, facts (and I’m not talking about some meme on Facebook where no one knows who developed it) and legitimate personal experiences, and check one’s emotion at the door beforehand, then some real progress could be made.  This is the “fertilizer” that I am talking about.  This is the good kind of poop – differences of opinion that could be perceived by some as negative; used sparingly to cultivate discussion and movement towards a common good.  The problem begins when people start turning their turds into trophys for purposes other than promoting good discussion.

YOUR TURD IS NOT A TROPHY:  I see it everyday – in my personal life and at work.  Someone is upset about something for whatever reason and rather than flushing those turds of negative, unproductive, opinions down the toilet they chose to go run their virtual mouth on the internet proudly displaying to everyone their smelly, fly infested, turd.  What is even more fascinating is that some people seem to display these piles of crap like a trophy and wear the stench as if it were a badge of honor.  It might be on Facebook, or Yelp, some blog or news thread, or some other online review/complaint forum.  Unless you are just a “Richard,” those who engage in this kind of conduct can’t really feel good about what they are saying.  So why does this happen?  Well, there are many philosophies, but I’ll talk about the few that I tune into:

  • EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS:  All humans have some very basic needs and when those needs are not being met they tend to act differently.  Perhaps some people react negatively online because they are looking for attention.  Some might even say that these types tend to be a bit narcissistic and fail to consider that other people have opinions…and feelings too.  Others just are a little bit of a hot-head.  We all know at least one person that flies off the handle and says things without really thinking about what they are saying or the repercussions that can come from it.  Sometimes people’s emotions get the better of them and they do or say things that aren’t exactly becoming.  Those people tend to be remorseful later…but what happens when those outbursts are not contained to the private setting?  What happens when they post it on the internet for all to see…and then maybe can’t get it taken down?
  • ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR:  As twisted as it sounds, yes, there are people who actually go around being negative and mean just for pure entertainment.  Indeed there are those that carry the turd trophy and engage in the frequent displaying of turds.  These individuals are labeled by other onlookers in the online community as an internet “troll.”  What is rather sad is that trolls literally post inflammatory remarks merely to provoke readers into an emotional response to disrupt regular conversation for their own amusement.  Who has that kind of time on their hands?  Why would anyone purposefully hurt someone else for entertainment?  Trolls I guess…  Again, even trolls eventually get caught, are shamed, and/or feel remorse once their moral compass straightens itself out…and then what?  And again, what happens when the posting you made cannot be taken down if and when you want to?

Regardless of how it happens, the fact is, these actions are not nice (often causing harm, and possible liability, that many don’t think about until it happens to them or someone they love and care about and/or you get slapped with a defamation lawsuit) and when you do it in an online forum you are doing nothing more than displaying your turd trophy that no one wants to see.

FLIES ON TURDS:  It only takes one really stinky turd (negative opinion) to get the flies swarming.  Online, it seems that as soon as someone starts in with negative talk and opinions others feel comfortable in joining in the same bad behavior.  There are a lot of articles out on the internet about today’s “mob mentality”.  Anne Trafton, in a 2014 article titled “When good people do bad things” and posted to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT‘s website, reported on the mob mentality topic and eluded to how people in groups will do things that are against their morals and standards due to, among other things, a “diminished sense of personal responsibility” for the actions of the group.  Its amazing how bad people can get when they perceive some level of protection by the group…and this takes place all over, including the internet.  I’ve personally seen one person post a comment regarding finding a dog a home and you had all kinds of opinions back and forth, including name calling, defending one side or another.  All I could think of was a crowd chanting “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” on the  Jerry Springer television show.  Again, this was about finding a dog a home!  Seriously?  When did this sort of actions become the norm and quasi accepted in society?  Why is it that everyone feels the need to turn EVERYTHING into a Jerry Springer show?  If you do any reading online you know exactly what I am talking about; and some of it has become so bad that it’s like a train wreck…even the most conservative of people can’t look away.  It’s distracting…and moreover just wrong.

LEARN TO COURTESY FLUSH:  I’m all for people having opinions.  I even form my own turds on occasion but rather than being a “Richard” I do my best to stop and ask myself if my turd of an opinion is going to advance valuable commentary or not.  I get it, sometimes it is really hard to bite your tongue…especially in the “keyboard warrior” environment, however, if what you are going to say (your opinion) is mean, harmful,  amounts to bullying or harassing, and/or fails to promote legitimate truth (you know, a turd on a shiny platter) perhaps consider giving it a courtesy flush. We could all benefit from checking our negativity at the door.  Nothing good comes from being mean and harassing.  Nothing good comes from saying harmful things.  Nothing good comes from the publication of half-truths and false information.  If anything, in the long run, what you say could come back to haunt you days, weeks, years later…and you may be met with regret, social problems, and/or legal problems…all of which will be discussed later in this blog series.  It’s time to break the cycle…and through discussion, education, and tools perhaps we can start making a change one “post” at a time.

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