A while back someone, who will remain nameless, posted something on their FriendFeed that really got me thinking. I don't know why it struck me like it did. I think it just speaks to what a lot of people feel is the nature of the web and that says a lot about how we all see people we interact with in this "digital world". Anyway, they said (very succinctly)...
God I hate jerks on the internet. Why do people expend so much energy being assholes?”
Now, I don't know what she was referring to so I'll say right off the bat that the person could have been a troll. But the more I think on the topic of "jerks on the Internet" the more I realize that the term is thrown around way too often.
I was brought up to believe a troll/jerk/whatever on the Internet is someone who has nothing to express except an insult. Because everyone is a little harsher on the Internet. So if someone actually puts a thought with their insult they're just the same as everyone else on the Internet.
I doubt the person who made this comment would stand up in an actual room of people and say "God I hate the jerks in this room" no matter how rude the people in that room were.
Because again, we're all a little harsher on the Internet.
But being the over-analyzing type I wanted to break down some of the reasons for this "Internet Harshness" because I think understanding the phenomenon is vital to realizing that there aren't that many actual trolls out there (which should make everyone feel a little better about the world). With that said, here's what I came up with...
The Internet just reveals what is hidden in real life
Tons of studies have proven conclusively that we as human beings don't like it when others disagree with us. No matter how tactfully that disagreement is expressed you're going to see signs of agitation in a person when an opinion contrary to their own is expressed.
In other words, when someone disagrees with you the emotional side of you is thinking "this person's an idiot" you just don't express that in real life.
So all the Internet does is to take that pretense away. It brings out a harsher side of people because we temper our behavior in real life based on the person we're speaking to. When we can't see that person it inevitably leads us to hold back less.
But the sentiment is the same as it is in real life it's just lacking the sugar coating
Most "trolls" are responding in kind
I've noticed this most in Political blogs where someone will go on a tirade about one candidate or another and then is surprised when they get angry responses.
So a person will say "You'd have to be an idiot to vote for Obama" and then get attacked by a bunch of Obama supporters. That person then turns around and calls the comments "trolling" because they were just "expressing their opinion" while the commenters were "attacking them"
The problem with that logic is that the person's "opinion" was an attack in itself which means the so called "trolls" were just defending themselves. Just because you don't realize you're being harsh doesn't mean you aren't being harsh.
People discuss things online they wouldn't discuss in real life
The reality is that most people discussing anything on the Internet are doing so because they can't or won't discuss it in real life. That's why you see things like politics and faith discussed on the Internet so much. Because most wouldn't discuss those things in real life for fear of alienating the people they have to be around in real life.
But by nature that means conversations on the Internet are going to get more heated than those in real life. Because, by definition, the topics being discussed are controversial ones.
So in the end...
The Internet is, and probably always will be, the Wild, Wild West of human discourse. No matter how mindful you try to be you're going to hurt people's feelings with the things you say and when you can't see the expression on that person's face you're going to hurt them even worse than you normally would.
The sooner everyone accepts that as an inevitability the happier everyone will be.