A couple of weeks ago I chose to unfollow someone on twitter who I disagree with on pretty much everything. It was something that I had given consideration to for a while but couldn’t bring myself to. For a variety of reasons.
For one I liked to read their tweets too much for the very reason that I disagreed with them. Their tweets usually got me riled up and angry and annoyed at the ignorance and hypocrisy they were coming out with. I don’t know if it made me feel better about myself somehow, probably, but honestly I just liked the conflict. Part of me wanted to reply to all their tweets with sarcasm and clever put downs.
Secondly, it was fun watching others bring them down through satire and the simple highlighting of their ignorance. I liked it. It made me feel good.
But, I decided that I didn’t want to follow someone on Twitter or Facebook for those reasons. I decided I didn’t see any value or life in looking at someone’s twitter feed for the sole reason of feeling indignant.
So I unfollowed.
Then a week or two later someone I do follow retweeted something they had written and I had honestly forgotten that this person existed. It was a strange feeling but it felt amazing. I had forgotten about someone who hates through their words, who won’t listen to anyone when they have something critical to say, regardless of how nicely it is said. It felt freeing.
But there was another part of me that wanted to refollow this person.
You see, when someone is expressing views that are damaging, unhelpful, biased and possibly dangerous it is important to stand against it. When racist, homophobic or sectarian views for example, are constantly being given an audience, we need to stand up against them because quite frankly they are wrong.
So there was this side of me that wanted to continue following this person so I could challenge those views. But, in all the time that I did challenge this person they never engaged with me. Now I’m not saying that they should have but I think there is a major reason why they never did.
When I read any of their tweets and the replies to them, nearly 90% were angry, damaging and personally hurtful in return. Of course, you’re less likely to reply to anyone when most people return the hateful views you express. Why would you?
So ultimately I decided that it’s better not to go searching for those online who I know I won’t agree with or even will disagree with even if deep down I think they have a point.
I realised that no matter how right you think you are, if you are engaging with someone in a mean and villifying way, then you’re a troll.
And I was starting to develop that mindset.
There is no life in that. There is no beauty. There is no progress and it takes away from the time and ability we have to offer grace, peace and love to everyone.
Which is exactly why I ended up re following them.
Let me explain exactly what I mean and why.
There is another blogger online who I also disagree with entirely on everything and I was very close to leaving a rude and angry message to a recent blog post of theirs. But I stopped myself right before clicking send.
I’ve written a few blog posts in my time that have got a lot of discussion going. There are typically three types of responses. Those who are encouraged by what I have written (my favorite and most inspiring), those who disagree but are kind, heartfelt and sincere in their responses (as inspiring because it shows we can be civil and disagree) and finally those who are rude, unkind and hurtful.
My draft response to the blog post by the blogger fell into the latter category.
And I knew it immediately because it felt familiar to comments I have received in the past.
Comments which leave me angry and bitter.
I try to reply with peace but sometimes I’m typing through a clenched fist.
This is the problem with much of the discourse online. We don’t leave the other party with something useful to think about; we simply solidify their hate. It only causes them and us as it happens, to be more convinced we are right and more likely to have our backs up.
As I thought through the number of times I have read replies to tweets or comments on blogs that are full of hate I realized that most of them are simply offering more hate and anger and very few agree with the original sentiment.
So what would happen if we simply stopped replying to those two or three people online that we like to hate? What if that 90% of people simply ignored those with views that are wrong?
I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty confident that those speaking hate online would end up speaking to no one. Yes we need to challenge people sometimes but often the best course of action is to remove that persons voice by not using ours. Sometimes the best way is stop giving them more fuel to their fire because we’ll all end up getting burned.
But is that enough?
Does that really bring change and hope?
I don’t think so.
Tomorrow I’ll explain more about a third way of reacting online and my new social media experiment which you can all be a part of.