I recently saw on an atheist blog that a Fox News story regarding a Christian monument at the World Trade Center site resulted in a torrent of hate mail and death threats directed at atheists in particular. While I certainly do not condone hate speech or death threats, I can understand why people might say these things.
Times are tough. We all know that. Some people have been hit harder than others. Some people are not well-equipped to handle personal and national crisis simultaneously. They get scared. They look for an outlet. This is my theory about why there is so much vitriol in comment threads across the internet. People abuse their online anonymity to blow off steam, even if they do not necessarily mean the things they say.
I hold a rule of thumb about putting stuff on the internet. It goes something like, “If you would not say it in real life, do not say it online.” If you would not walk up to somebody’s face and say something to them in meatspace, then you do not have any business saying that in person. It keeps my online presence more civil. It also helps keep focus because the message or idea I am trying to convey is not drowned out by crazy bullshit.
I wish sites like Fox News Comments did not have so much material. I really do. If you catch yourself writing something hurtful or crazy online, stop yourself and ask, “Would I say this to someone in real life?” If the answer is no, delete the comment or post, push away from the desk, go for a walk, and cool off.