The Crimson White

Getting a cyber black eye

Meghan Dorn

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Fascinatingly, with the rapid development of technology, we still have not developed a way to reach through computer screens and punch someone typing foolish statements from their keyboard.

I am a big fan of “unplugging” and un-friending individuals in order to avoid these blood-boiling triggers. However, with local and national politics heating up, I’ve found that I have to be more realistic about my relationship with social media, and wanted to understand more about my frustrations.

David McRaney describes this phenomenon as the “Backfire Effect”. He explains, “A thousand positive remarks can slip by unnoticed, but one “you suck” can linger in your head for days. One hypothesis as to why this and the backfire effect happens is that you spend much more time considering information you disagree with than you do information you accept. Information which lines up with what you already believe passes through the mind like a vapor, but when you come across something which threatens your beliefs, something which conflicts with your preconceived notions of how the world works, you seize up and take notice.”

An online challenge to your beliefs is also preserved in a specifically-written and interactive medium. Imagine that someone made a statement mocking your college, saying anyone who attended that institution is an idiot. If this attack was in a book, you would think, “well this book is foolish”, maybe tell your friends about it, and move on. If this attack were in person, you would then have the opportunity to read that person’s body language and understand more about their intention of saying this – was it sarcasm? Was it to intentionally get a rise out of you? Or is this person simply a fool not worth a reaction from you at all? Another element of them saying it in person is that the moment will pass. Some people will hear them make the statement, others will not.

But the difference with posting online is that this attack exists in a way that you have no guaranteed context of their intention. Instead the statement is presented in its entirety in a format where you are able to analyze their word choice, grammar, timing and create your own interpretation of what their attack means. And then the difference between the book and a Facebook post is that you can engage with the author immediately, and tell them what you think about the college they went to.

You are given so much more fuel to fire up your anger with an online attack unlike other mediums, especially given that you have the chance to hit back. As a general recommendation though, I would avoid commenting on posts that anger you. Internet arguments do not take long to spiral into yelling matches and suddenly you’re announcing with caps lock what your assumptions are about their mother. Work on only engaging if you have evidence to back up your opposing opinion, or contact the person directly to discuss the post and ask them to take it down if you think it is a truly inappropriate attack. Talking about it outside of the comment section often avoids people from digging their heels in, because you aren’t calling them out publicly. Also always make sure you’re using the right form of their, there and they’re. Nothing shuts down an Internet spat faster than a counter featuring an asterisk.

To control your anger though – consider the benefit of hearing an opposing opinion. You are now able to hear another side that you don’t agree with and possibly learn from them. I try to understand why they would make that statement, and what life experiences led them to have that perspective. Sometimes I’ve even reached out to others to allow them to explain how they developed their views when they opposed mine. When you’re able to get a bigger picture, you can then sometimes cool your frustrations and help remember the person behind the computer screen and not just the hurtful words displayed.

I say all of this, and am fully aware that I will soon see a post that makes me roll my eyes. Work to avoid the trolls, respond to the ones whom you think you can actually converse with, and remember that it’s just a post on the Internet.

Meghan Dorn is a senior majoring in political science and public relations. Her column runs biweekly.

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Getting a cyber black eye