September 28, 2012

Do Words From a Stranger on Twitter Really Hurt?

Dont feed the trollI'm not one to dish out abuse on Twitter, and I'm not inclined to defend those who do. I think that communication generally benefits from some measure of mutual civility, so I do not have much interest in those who rely on name-calling to express themselves. But some people really do need thicker skin, especially on the Internet. I ran across a tweet, directed at nobody in particular, insisting that words hurt and that people who said hurtful things should be ashamed of themselves.

Assuming that you are an adult of sound mind, do words from a complete stranger during a meaningless online exchange really hurt that much? In the last month alone, I've been called everything from an agent of Satan to a "rape apologist." Did it hurt me? Of course not! I recognized it as utter gibberish.

In my offline existence, I cannot count the number of times I've been accosted by transients on the street or in mental health treatment settings. They've called me every name in the book (and some that weren't in any book). I've been told to kill myself, to burn in hell, to "go die," and yet, here I am. I haven't killed myself, and I don't recall taking any of it personally. Why on Earth would I care what some random stranger thinks of me?

Would the same people whining about being insulted on Twitter cope with such offline encounters any less well? Would they really lose sleep over what an impaired person on the street said to them? And if not, then why is the Internet so different?

When someone online is abusive, calls you names you don't like, or does whatever you consider offensive, you can easily opt not to respond. You can end the interaction right there. And if it really bothers you that much, why wouldn't you?

When I observe the way some people deal with those they consider trolls, I have to laugh. It would be like me walking down the street and tweeting about how a scary homeless person was harassing me as I continued to argue with him and refused to say anything to the police officer on the corner or duck into a store for a reprieve.

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