From major social media platforms to individual websites, most online spaces are designed to support user engagement and interaction. At their best, these spaces allow groups of individuals to connect, share ideas, and engage in fruitful discussions. Ideally, everyone comes away better and richer from the experience.
But these online spaces also have a dark side. They can foster hostility, negativity, and aggression. Far from coming away encouraged and enriched, you can find yourself feeling angry, tense, and depressed. Over time, this can take a toll on you mentally and emotionally.
Here are 3 steps you can take to protect yourself and stay healthy when participating in these online spaces.
1. Be as thoughtful and respectful online as you would be in person.
Instead of rushing to post your initial thoughts and reactions, choose to exercise self-restraint. Hit your personal inner pause button, take a deep breath, and take a step back.
When dealing with friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues face-to-face, the vast majority of us don't blurt out anything and everything that comes into our mind, with no regard for the possible impact. The vast majority of us want to be decent, kind people. We want to nurture and maintain our relationships. We want to take the feelings of others into consideration. Maintain this attitude online, commenting as thoughtfully and respectfully as you would in a face-to-face conversation.
2. Beware of the mob mentality.
As dozens, perhaps hundreds of comments start to accumulate, you might witness a type of mob mentality emerging. This is most likely to happen around highly controversial issues which people are passionate about. Just like in the real world, it's very easy to get caught up and swept away in the moment when this scenario starts to unfold.
In order to stay aware of the mob mentality in online spaces, keep your head on straight and your eyes open. If you share the dominant opinion and you see things taking a turn for the worse, don't contribute to the frenzy; refrain from attacking commenters who express a different opinion. If you're the one with a different opinion from the majority and things are getting hostile, consider whether it's really necessary to share your opinion in that particular environment, and if there's anything to be gained by doing so.
3. Know when to take a break.
Online, anonymity often leads people to behave and communicate far differently than they normally would. On the one hand, this can be quite helpful, as people may share more openly and honestly about their experiences than they would in person. On the other hand, this anonymity can bring out the worst in people, emboldening them to say things that are rude, insulting, hurtful, and even malicious.
Stay in tune with yourself, and know when to take a break. If the online space you're in starts to devolve into hostility and personal insults, do yourself a favour and remove yourself from the environment.
All of the above might seem obvious, but it's shockingly easy to get sucked into unhealthy discussions online as the back-and-forth between commenters rapidly escalates. As we continue to spend more of our time interacting online, it's increasingly important that we take steps to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally during these interactions.
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