The Blog

The Digital Space Is Becoming Increasingly Toxic: How Can We Be Kinder?

It's a great gig: I get to share news and opinions and get an instant response. We see how many people read a piece, how many people like it.

I make a living writing online.

It's a great gig: I get to share news and opinions and get an instant response. We see how many people read a piece, how many people like it.

Not everyone will always agree with me, and not everyone will like my writing - and that's fine. Individual taste is just one of the rich nuances that make up the tapestry of life.

Over the last few years, I have seen the responses to online content take a darker turn.

I'm sure most writers and journalists have received emails to their personal accounts telling them they're a c*** when they cover a potentially contentious issue. I certainly have.

When you choose to share something controversial on the internet, sadly (but somewhat understandably) that kind of abuse comes with the territory.

And there are many internet commentators who rarely hold back with their bile.

There are thousands of articles expounding on why online abuse is so prolific - with physical distance being a major factor.

Additionally, people are able to construct their own echo chamber - a space which is curated according to the user's own tastes, opinions, and thoughts.

This seems to be leading to huge swathes of people who simply cannot accept news that doesn't correlate with their own view.

I have seen some social media users unleash bile when they read a piece they don't agree with. Not opinion - but news. "If you keep publishing this kind of stuff," one follower remarked on a story, I will stop reading your page."

This comment was followed by a vitriolic one-star review of the magazine in question, saying something along the lines of 'I love everything about the publication - but you posted a story online that I don't agree with, and that's not ok'.

News is news - facts are facts. We can't simply pretend current affairs aren't happening because we don't like them. The very fact people want to is a chilling indictment of how our self-made echo chambers are infantilising us.

I have seen (and experienced) how posting a straight news story - devoid of personal opinion - can lead to online commentators questioning the intelligence, integrity, ability, character and even appearance of the writer. Or, as social media users like to call them, 'these people'.

'These people are idiots', 'these people can't write', 'there's obviously something wrong with these people'.

One of the worst examples of online shaming I've seen happened recently, when a news story posted by a writer was shared into a Facebook group, with a patronising note imploring the group's members to 'educate' the writer who apparently didn't know what they were doing.

It was such a piece of blatant bullying, under the guise of 'helping', that it painted a savage picture of the reader, and not the writer in question. Were there a real issue with the piece, a private, civil message would have resolved the issue much more appropriately than online shaming.

Other harsh criticism can be found on websites which are set up to 'trash talk' content creators including bloggers and YouTubers. Comments can be frenzied and cruel, talking about the creator's appearance, personal hygiene, even bringing serious allegations about their character and conduct into play.

People adopt a bravado online, there's no question about that. They speak to people in a way they wouldn't dare to in real life. They make flippantly abusive comments they wouldn't defend in person.

Perhaps the only way to resolve this toxic behaviour is very simple - just think about whether you would say the same thing to a person standing in front of you - if you wouldn't, it's probably not the best idea to share it on the internet.

Just because someone has shared something in a digital space, does not mean they aren't a real person, with feelings, thoughts, and an emotional life.

This point seems so obvious - and has certainly been made many times. But it doesn't seem to be sinking in - so maybe we just have to keep repeating it.