We have all watched in dismay as incivility has polluted the public spaces of our national discourse. But when it crosses into our personal territory, the mud-slinging can be emotionally devastating.
A new study by YouGov discovered that just over a quarter (26 percent) of adults surveyed said that reading negative comments on their social media feed can ruin their day.
Whether it's one ugly remark or a gang of trolls joining in the cyber-thrashing, when you feel digitally insulted, it can be paralyzing, according to psychologists we spoke with while researching Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate.
“It’s absolutely traumatizing,” agrees Dr. Robi Ludwig. “It feels like it’s never going to go away, like your whole world is caving in, like a scarlet letter. It’s easy to stay fixated on the nasty things that might even feel true.”
Now, we are hearing researchers warn more and more cyberbullying and social media is impacting the lives of youth, with an increase in the rates of depression and kids taking their own lives. Teen suicide has climbed 28 percent since 2010, which is an average of five deaths a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Taking the sting out.
Words hurt, and I would never insult anyone by saying they don't. If you find yourself the victim of cruel comments, there are different ways to respond to online trolls. Typically people (including myself) will tell you never to “feed” them, however after researching my latest book, we found out there are different ways people can try to deal with virtual pests.
Here are a few:
1. The Fighter: It was Halloween 2013 when Caitlin Seida realized she was Internet famous. She was the victim of a mean meme with strangers slinging hateful comments at her about her weight. Caitlin, after realizing where the shaming was coming from, decided not to take the abuse. She fought back, calling out her attackers on their own social media pages.
2. The Humanizer: C.D. Hermelin was minding his own business when he found himself caught up in a Reddit thread with people discussing how much they hated him! His crime? Sitting on a park bench typing stories. C.D. had been struggled with bullying in school, so when he realized this was happening, it was like his childhood revisited. He decided to jump into the Reddit thread and explain his mission. He humanized them—and himself. Slowly the tone changed and some comments were deleted.
3. The Empathizer: Carol Todd is a mother who took the tragic 2012 suicide of her daughter, cyberbullying victim Amanda Todd, as a call to action. About a year ago she received a cruel message from a troll. Although she knew, "not to feed trolls," something told her to ignore her sage advice. Over time, through online messages, she learned this kid needed an adult to help guide him. He actually started helping others through Carol's empathy for him.
Post positive, feel good.
Just in case you needed a study for this, YouGov survey said that the majority of Americans (61 percent) said that reading a comment on their own post can make their day. Interestingly, adults, unlike the youth, are not concerned about likes—only 10 percent say that they are very important to them.
Although we often focus on the negative effects of digital discourse, the survey revealed that 44 percent of people surveyed said positive comments on something they posted made them feel better about themselves.
The next time you post a comment, ask yourself:
Is this an embarrassing photo?
Are you using profanity?
Are you posting a picture or tagging someone without their permission?
How would you feel if this was said or posted about you?
If it's a heated discussion, are you being constructive? (Not combative).
Are you being kind?