The Golden Rule applies online, too

There is a tendency, when interacting online to engage others in ways that are different than our usual face-to-face practices. It’s interesting to me that this happens, as it implies a loss of inhibition. Or, in some cases, a deceptive persona that takes over when staring at a computer screen.

The other day, I saw Jason Pollack say this on twitter:

Similarly, a few days later someone else (and I can’t recall exactly who) said - also on twitter - that if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face that you shouldn’t blog it. I would go so far as to say that even things you’d say to someone face-to-face should be measured very carefully before they are published online. Spoken words have a far different impact than written words.

This idea of online behavior matching real life behavior appeals to me strongly because it fits my personal practices. After an unpleasant experience this week, I’m more cognizant than ever about who I choose to interact with and how I behave in those interactions. I’ve always tried to treat others how I wish to be treated - regardless of where I’m interacting with someone. Of course I’m not perfect, but that is one of the things that makes me just like everyone else.

I recently had an altercation with someone on twitter that started out (I thought) as a discussion of different viewpoints that very quickly degraded to condescending cockiness and resulted in me being unfollowed.

Because I had a different opinion and expressed it. All over what I thought was a pretty innocuous discussion. It was very revealing of the character of this other person.

I have absolutely no problem with being unfollowed in general - it happens all the time. But I was pretty stunned at the sequence of events that led up to this particular instance. You see, I’ve had discussions on twitter countless times where I didn’t agree with another person, sometimes a whole group. I don’t hold it against them. I’m reasonably sure they don’t hold it against me either. We can each share our perspective with the knowledge that we will likely end the discussion with an agreement to disagree. Occasionally, one side or the other will bring up points that give others a new perspective to think about. I love when that happens - even when I’m the one thinking on a new perspective! To me, it’s not about a “winner” or a “loser” or being right. It’s about discussion of ideas and beliefs.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is the way that discussions of different viewpoints have gone for me. I genuinely like hearing other perspectives, even if I happen to disagree with them and it’s healthy to be able to debate with someone who holds a different view in an adult, mature and civil manner.

However, the ability to discuss maturely disintegrates when either side begins to think they are right. Period. In my experience, this leads to condescension and personal attacks that are unnecessary.

After having such an exchange this week, seeing Jason’s simple wisdom (and play on the Golden Rule), reminded me that caution in engaging online is crucial. When conversation begins to go down the road of becoming personal, it’s best to let it go entirely. If the other side is determined to be right, does it really matter that much? In my case, it didn’t matter at all, but I was having a bad day and I let myself get baited into replying anyway. When I saw that I was unfollowed by this person, it confirmed for me that they were not the type of person I want to associate with online - or anywhere else - and I unfollowed them as well. It was an easy decision since this was my first and only interaction with them. (What a first impression! They thought the same thing, obviously.)

I opened this post by saying that people often engage in behavior that is different than their real life persona in their interactions online. While that is true, sometimes I wonder which is truly the real person: the face they show people in real life or the one they show online.

Have you ever experienced this type of situation? What did you do? What’s your philosophy for online behavior?