Apparently the anonymity of social media, coupled with the at-arm’s-length feel of the Internet, means that we are often tempted to speak and act in a way we probably wouldn’t if we were face-to-face with a person or situation. We can get mean. You know what I’m talking about. The sarky comments, the temptation to wade into someone else’s mess, the need to correct, criticise, ridicule, offer up our own viewpoint, or just be abusive because someone has ticked you off.
But sometimes, we say a bit too much, and obviously people can get hurt, and relationships—online and off—can get damaged, and before you know it you’re blacklisted. I’ve done it myself. I made a comment. I meant it in a jokey way, but someone found it overly critical and was offended. Result? Someone I respected and enjoyed following has blocked me!!!! I apologised but it didn’t make any difference. It’s easy to say ‘Well they shouldn’t be so easily offended.’ It’s not really their fault – I just didn’t think before I ‘spoke’, I was so keen to show off my hilarious wit. It’s my fault, not his.
We’re quite keen to say that things are other people’s problems, but that ‘I’m all right, you’re the one with the problem,’ attitude doesn’t get us far. Lucy Mitchell on her brilliant blog BlondeWriteMore suggested we should perform one random act of creative kindness daily. A lot of us, especially writers, sit at home all day working away on our own. So the words of a stranger on the other side of the planet can have a deep effect. Don’t mess up someone’s day just because you got carried away with your own cleverness or were eager to be seen interacting on your platform of choice.
When you make a comment, remember you are talking to a real person, not just a collection of bytes. Don’t disguise a nasty sideswipe as a witty comment; don’t act as if you are the almighty writing boffin just because you’ve had some success and they are still working towards theirs. Don’t laugh at the NaNoWriMoers, at the aspirers, at the strugglers, at the people with the lousy book cover, poor editing, ideas that–to you–seem hackneyed or cliched. We are all just trying to get by. To hone our craft we all have to start somewhere. My mum used to say ‘If you can’t say something nice, keep quiet.’ So play nice, be generous, be gentle, be kind.