If you want to retain even a shred of faith in humanity, you have two choices: you can either steadfastly refuse to read the comments people leave on online news articles and blog posts, or you can trust that people are better than their internet comments.
I’d probably recommend the former, but if you are a glutton for punishment and have to read anyway, it’s good to remember the latter.
If you were to go by what people say in their internet comments, you would believe that 95% of Americans would prefer to see every single person on the sex offender registry, from those who kidnapped and molested dozens of small children to the guy who stuck a five dollar bill down the shirt of a 17-year-old to the 25 year old who slept with a 15 year old girlfriend dead. Preferably, dead after they’ve been raped in prison for a while. On the internet, if somebody has done something wrong, there is no punishment too severe.
This can be disheartening. It can be horrifying. It can also be really, really scary, for the 750,000 and counting registered sex offenders in this country and their families.
But, we need to remember that these knee-jerk, usually-anonymous responses–in most cases involving the person doing nothing more than reading a headline than typing out a response as they are fuming with righteous indignation–do not represent most people’s feelings, or the best of people, or how people feel about specific cases.
And, of course, it’s not just sex offenders. The internet also hates fat people, parents of fat children, parents of unruly children, Nascar, Muslims, most Christians, Lindsey Lohan, Internet Explorer, drunk drivers, pennies, and all black people, just to name a very few. So, you’ve got a whole lot of company.
Rise above it. Don’t let it get to you. If you want to add some sanity to the discussion, do it, because alternative views do need to get out there. But, do it calmly and respectfully, not stooping to the level of the internet haters. Make your point and then leave it be, because, “Wow, I never thought about it that way. I was wrong and have changed my mind,” said nobody on the internet ever.
Your calm, thoughtful comment standing out in a sea of hateful cries for blood may plant a seed that will eventually lead to somebody’s change of heart, but you will never argue another commenter into agreeing with you. Never in the history of the internet has such a thing happened, and you will not be the first.*
And just remember that even the most hateful commenter is better than that in real life. If they knew you, if they knew your family, they might not want to hang out with you, but they most likely wouldn’t storm your house with pitchforks. It’s not that unlikely that they’d get to know you and decide that, sure, they hate those other sex offenders (or fat people or parents with unruly kids or fundamentalist Christians or people who want to see handguns banned), but not you and your family. Because it’s easy to hate people we don’t know, and much harder to hate people we do.
It’s just so easy to get down about the world and feel so hated and judged based on the comments you see online. Don’t do it. Know that people are better. And, if you need to give up reading the comments to keep your sanity, do it.
* These are reminders for me more than for anybody else. I am guilty as charged of thinking that 1) I can argue some random internet hater into changing their mind and 2) it would make a significant difference in the world if I did.