Geeks Vs Loneliness: tolerance below the line

Be wary of feeding the trolls, cautions Jane. Because who, ultimately, benefits?

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our little spot on the site where we look to chat about matters and challenges that may be affecting you, and/or people you know. No miracle cures here or anything that fancy. Just a space to stop, chat, mull and muse.

This week, we hand over to the marvellous Jane Roberts. And she wants to have a word about internet comments…

I’m a little bit frustrated right now. Often I sit down to read an article online that I may not personally agree with but that I might learn something useful from. I get to the bottom – and BAM! Below the line so often these days is an outpouring of intolerance and an utter lack of respect from all sides of the argument.

Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t get it. I don’t want it. I wonder if the people doing it would step into a room and subject their peers to the same lengthy abuse. I very much doubt they would – the consequences would probably be much more serious than ‘comment deleted by moderator’.

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It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior of whatever hue you wish to be. All you need is the proverbial keyboard, which is all too easily reached these days thanks to wonders of modern technology. All you need to do is engage your fingers, tap a few syllables and hit enter. That message spins off into cyberspace and ends up below the line. Quite possibly to inflame, to ridicule, to belittle or drown out the voices of other people. Actual real people.

It’s at this point I tend to step away. I’m no snowflake (and the misuse of a word that describes a unique and beautiful natural phenomena irritates a word nerd like me!). When I write I try to make people’s lives a bit better, give them something positive to focus on. I rarely get trolled – mainly because the good folks here at Den of Geek work very hard to provide a safe space for us all to enjoy and articulate ourselves on.

Bait and react – that’s what trolling aims to do. And I admit there have been times I’ve tripped into the trap. When you’re tired, emotional or just had a few jars too many it can be hard to resist pointing out someone is being a twerp. Or worse – I’m not standing up for the racist, the ill-informed and the downright spiteful here. What I am advocating is that we step back and maybe think before we react.

Tolerance: a noun defined as the ability or willingness to consider the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with. I’m not sure it is an inherent virtue or one as adults we actually have to practise on a regular basis to get the hang of it (in my case it certainly is!). Sure, call out the intolerant and abhorrent. But can we try not to walk into their traps? A real life observation – it actually rather infuriates the bullies and naysayers to be treated with respect and consideration.

So often this website has extolled the virtues of the film Sing Street. I’m adding my voice to that cry. That film takes a bully and gives a small window into their world to ask you to understand their frustrations and the origins of their actions. As a bullied teenager it was a lesson I saw first hand. At 17 I reported a bully at school who’d physically threatened me. The school called in her guardian. Not her parents – I learned that they’d completely abdicated responsibility for parenting to her grandmother. I saw her grandmother – a woman utterly worn down by life – and I realised that crap happens to everyone. I might not like how it rebounded on me but I can at least try to understand it.

So as tempting as it may be to switch it up and bait the trolls back – and as funny as the results can often be – take a moment to ask yourself what you are doing. Why you are doing it. If an idiot is shouting at you below the line, is it not better to walk away and let them shout into a vacuum?

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So I’m asking that we don’t feed the trolls. There is a line that you can step over when you are wound up that you probably wouldn’t cross with a person in the room. Starve them of oxygen; deprive them of nourishment. And if you really have to respond, smother them in kindness. Be nice. Consider tolerance, even if it’s in short supply on the other side of the line.

As always, thanks for reading.

Jane Roberts