I’ve thought about writing a lot of posts recently about all the online toxicity about, but none of them seem adequate or appropriate. Alan Levine asks if the Party is Over. I read Kate Bowles lovely article on kindness and it resonated with what I wanted to say. I am deeply aware that this post will come across as weak, dippy, inadequate. But here goes.
Amidst all this anger, vitriol and nastiness, what is the appropriate response? I think that depends on who you are. For my own mental wellbeing I really can’t enter the bearpit of confrontation or disappear down wormholes of anger. I really get that some people feel this is what you have to do, but trust me, I can’t. So my response seems like a lack of response, a big meh. But it’s not. My approach is to be nice to others. Kindness, respect, politeness in my general tone online. Nice is a political statement too.
Identity theory suggests we form our own identity by a sense of belonging, or ‘we-ness’. If the community is one of nice people, then those are the attributes you adopt if you wish to belong. Similarly, Kelty talks of ‘recursive publics’, which he defines as ‘a public that is constituted by a shared concern for maintaining the means of association through which they come together as a public’. The wellbeing of each other can be shared concern. We can help create the environment we want.
Nice/kind/polite are often portrayed as passive, but they’re not. They take effort. Being angry is easy. They needn’t be bland either – you can be funny, you can disagree with someone, offer criticism, put over a strong point of view, etc. But you can be respectful when you do it. Of course, being nice is no response if you’re the direct victim of online vitriol. I mean for the rest of us, actively being kind is the long-term way to defeat it. For every nasty tweet you read, do five random tweets of kindness.
I don’t know if it’s enough if I’m honest, vitriol has a way of contaminating everything else. And I’m also aware it’s probably a luxury afforded to me in a privileged position. But niceness is the best weapon I’ve got. And I think it’s undervalued.