Nowadays, many people are subject to the harmful consequences of the content they encounter online daily. That could be for reasons such as different backgrounds and upbringing that shape our worldviews and inform opinions and behaviors that can differ from those of others, or simply being unaware of or insensitive to how our behavior online can affect others. Either way, it’s inevitable to experience differences in opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we can be disrespectful to each other, not only in person, but online also.
See, it’s easy to be disrespectful online. For whatever reason an individual may have, being behind a keyboard gives a sense of safety, as there’s no one to confront or challenge them face to face, hence having supposed immunity from any outcomes. And in cases where the heart is harboring any sort of pain, disappointment, rage or bitterness, the keyboard can be an effective outlet for all the frustrations one may have.
However, on the other side, massive damage can be done to the target or recipient of that disrespect. He or she unintentionally becomes a punching bag, bombarded with the unfair hits thrown with all the malice that’s aimed at them. As a result, their mental health can take a deep dive into a dark hole that they may be unable to climb out of, even to the point of taking their own life. We never know what others are going through, and one hurtful comment could be the spark to ignite a destructive and unquenchable fire in their lives. That’s why we should be sensitive to others, and ourselves, whenever we interact online.
Sometimes, our disrespect can be completely unintentional and we don’t realise the harmful consequences of our actions until the damage has been done. This includes exposing a friend or loved one’s story, picture, video or other details without their consent. It could be embarrassing to them, and such a violation of their privacy could be equivalent to throwing someone “under the bus” (or more accurately, to the internet wolves that are constantly searching for the next victim to humiliate for no good reason). However well intended our actions, the outcome may not be good, depending on the person, their background, circumstances and state of mind. So take a minute to think about how exposing someone in this way may affect them before you click “Post.”
Also, before posting any comments online, take a minute to think about what you’re about to write and how it might come across. You might not even have any ill will, but how you say something can greatly determine how it’s interpreted. In case of arguments, read through them to make sure they address the issue in a balanced and objective way without attacking the person they’re addressed to or about. Think about it: if it would be offensive to you, it’s safe to assume that it may be offensive to them as well, right? Giving criticism doesn’t have to be disrespectful. You can do it with kindness.
Although not everybody is willing to be respectful – especially online – we should still practice it ourselves as we work together to make the world a better place. It always starts with somebody, so why not you? So, be safe, be alert, be smart and be respectful online.
For more information, visit www.getsafeonline.org.rw