10 Ways To Be A Better Peacemaker Online (And Make The Internet A Better Place)

10 Ways To Be A Better Peacemaker Online (And Make The Internet A Better Place) February 3, 2015

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Lately I’ve been lamenting at what a toxic place the internet can be, but instead of lament would like to contribute something more helpful to make dialoging with people on the internet a little less toxic, and a little more right. Here’s 10 things we can do to make the internet a better place for everyone:

1. Remember that avatars aren’t just avatars- but are real people with a real story.

It’s easy to lose sight of an individual’s humanity on the internet, but remember, this is a real person with a real story– and you don’t know their story. Try to remember that you’re not really talking to a cartoon avatar, but a real, live, human being who has their own story that led up to their nasty comment.

2. Know that you’re probably not seeing the individual’s true personality.

I am convinced that 99% of the nasty people you encounter on the internet probably aren’t like that in real life. They’re probably people who love their kids, don’t kick their dog, are generally kind to others, and who would be treating you completely different if you were sitting in their living room.

3. Remember that people are more than simply their position on a single issue.

When we encounter folks on the internet, it’s usually in response to a post that is dealing with one specific issue. Remember that you cannot gauge the totality of their personhood by their position on one, single issue. If you were to sit down with them, you might find a host of other things you agree on or have in common.

4. Consider that mean people are often feeling scared, insecure, or threatened.

When people lash out online, there’s usually good reason– and that reason most likely could be linked to feelings of fear, insecurity, or that their worldview is being threatened. Many people are afraid that if they discover one area of their belief system is wrong, everything else could collapse on them too (even though that’s rarely the case). For these folks, there is a need of self preservation to defend and argue, because they’re trying to protect their worldview from falling apart.

5. Don’t say things that you know will needlessly escalate a person.

Some of us are better at pushing people’s buttons than others, but we all know how to do it. Remember that a human being is not a toy to be maliciously played with, and saying things that you know will have a high likelihood of setting them off for no good reason should probably remain unsaid.

6. Remember that gentle responses often disarm.

This won’t be the case 100% of the time, but quite often you’ll find that if you respond to someone gently and kindly, they’ll soften up a bit to the point where you might be able to have a real conversation with each other.

7. Remember that responding with a defensive attitude can make  you look as obnoxious as the person you’re talking to.

The best way to go from the receiving end of nastiness to the giving end of it, is to respond defensively. I get it, no one likes to feel attacked– happens to me on a daily basis. But, the best thing you can do is to walk away when you’re feeling defensive because commenting from a defensive posture before you’ve had time to sit with your thoughts is a fast-track to becoming as nasty as they are.

8. Try to listen, no matter how hard.

A lot of nasty people just want to be heard, but haven’t quite caught on yet to the concept that they’re more likely to be heard if they knock off the obnoxious behavior. Consider taking the first step– help them by trying to listen to what they’re really trying to say. Perhaps being heard will help them to cool down a bit.

9. Don’t engage when you’re in bad space.

When you’re in bad space, that bleeds into your comments regardless of whether or not you can always see it. You’re less patient, less kind… less everything that’s good in the world. The best bet is to just avoid participating in the comment section when you’re in a bad mood.

10. Remember that you’ve done that too.

It’s easy to judge that nasty person you encounter online, but remember: there’s a good chance that someone else has a story where you were the nasty person. We all have our bad days. We’ve all done it. Just remember that the person you’re talking to might be just like you, but on a bad day.

We both have good days, and we both have bad days– but let’s try some of these 10 items and see if we can make the internet a better place for all of us.

This article also appeared at

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Terry Firma

    Well done. Liked reading this. Will reflect.

  • Amy Aletheia Cahill

    Hey, I absolutely trolled this blog 2-3 days after a brain injury made me unable to see the error of my ways. You were kind when I was fighting everybody who fought me. So I stopped to look at your perspective. If kindness could reach me when I really didn’t realize the consequences of my actions, how much more people who are just in bad headspace for other reasons, and just want to be heard. Because that’s what I wanted: to be heard and understood. The temptation was to be as obnoxious as I was being, but you were not. So you saved your own day, AND gained an appreciative reader. Good job on modeling the behavior you’re talking about. :)

  • Thanks, Amy. I often fail to get it right but I’m glad there’s at least one story where I did. Glad to have you as a reader.

  • Amy Aletheia Cahill

    You’re welcome. :)

  • I have learned I need to be circumspect about what I post, share or retweet, especially when I know the content will inflame some of my friends and followers. I really enjoy spirited debate, but so often, the comments degenerate into slander and butthurt. Sometimes I can turn things around by modeling a loving, moderate response, but not always. As you said, none of us are perfect, and occasionally I have found myself using terms or phrases that do not help the situation. Thanks for a very insightful post, I’m bookmarking it to refer to as needed.

  • John A. C. Kelley

    I get so caught up in the debate that I don’t even consider my arguments or the other person/people’s arguments to come from real people. There are only the points and the counter points. I argue mechanically and that is not a good way to make friends or to show people your side. I’m learning to be more gracious and humane, but it is hard for me, especially with my personality type. Thank you for this!

  • Amen, Ben.

    I don’t remember where I read it, but I recall reading that studies have been done showing just how drastically our attitudes change when there are mechanisms in place to hide the fact that other people are, well, people. Online forums and comment sections (usually) have different interactions when the participants have a human face attached to their words, even if it’s obviously not their face. Road rage is the problem that it is partially because other drivers are viewed as their vehicles, rather than as people. Etc.

  • Janice Brantner

    I did some disarming recently. It felt good. (Well okay, it was damage control but still…)

  • Jeff Preuss

    To be honest, a big part of why I post only under my very real name is
    to keep myself in check. If I wouldn’t be
    comfortable defending my positions or my actions to people who know
    exactly who I am, or to my Mom, then why should I be doing and saying
    those things? Avoiding anonymity filters out a
    LARGE portion of my inherently-natural snark, which can oft be
    counter-productive. Reminding myself to act like a human being, rather
    than an insult machine, makes it easier (but not 100%) for me to see
    other posters as people with very real feelings.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Well-worthy of reflection, Ben, and thank you…

    Unfortunately, those folks that stick out the most in my mind tend to be those who somehow find it enjoyable and fun to troll a site they’re are in diametric opposition just to be as much of a jerk as possible. I’ve been a mod on a forum or two over the past couple of decades and it’s either a gift or a learned skill to discern those that act like abject assholes just because they can from the merely “passionate.”

    I’m glad I’ve chosen to forego that particular responsibility most places, but aside from the sort of medical thing a particular commenter upthread has related, I’ve never understood the appeal. Rather, I think that were I to truly understand the sort of mind that finds such behavior “fun,” I’d be diminished thereby.

    There’s a long-standing and known-quantity troll on Media Matters that has actually written a book, and sold at least a few copies, of a book on how to be the biggest jerk on Disqus…

    Sometimes, Ben, a jerk is just a jerk, and asshole is just an asshole, a contrarian is that way just because…

    Those that insist on showing up here to show the regulars the error of their ways tend to be of the sort that really aren’t all that invested in their own mindsets, but really, really need some sort of validation, based upon their own insecurities.

    Else, why would they find it necessary to show up and diss a man of peace, who trained our hands for war as you and I each did?

  • Thank you. I enjoyed this as well.

  • Trev

    I would take your point 4 even further: whatever is said, try to assume the best of the person (this is also a holy practise to get into; rather then becoming angry at the person who cut you off, pray for them because they must be late or something to be in such a rush).

  • Lisa Martinez

    Ben…this is timely because I’ve been engaging some discussion on that offensive Nationwide ad. The Proverb keeps coming into my head “Answer a fool according to his folly…” but then some people just go so low! To call a bereaved parent a “stupid, irresponsible parent” is evil and hurts intensely. And Nationwide started it…I’ve been cursing them ever since Sunday. But anyway, I have to let it go because I don’t have the media backing of a large insurance conglomerate.

  • Herm

    .. and to forgive as quickly as I can!

  • Janice Brantner

    As someone with a lot of natural snark also, I really relate to your comment. I truly love people, but often the first thing that comes to my mind in discussions is something sarcastic. Usually those comments never make it into print, but sometimes they do. At least I have no problem apologizing when I realize I’ve offended someone, but I would rather do better at not offending.

  • Janice Brantner

    Yes, we can all upset someone accidentally, but the people who do it for fun I can’t even begin to comprehend.

  • I am grateful for the discussion. I am a person w/ some social delays. I never would have gotten the opportunity to learn how to be civil & follow a conversation, contribute appropriate posts etc if I hadn’t started following blogs and doing twitter a year & 1/2 ago. I was very trollish at first until I was exposed to intentional professional trolls and started studying up on it. Now I am extra careful to avoid individual blogs where a troll is holding sway. I try to warn ppl not to ‘feed’ them. Now I am working on what my triggers are. It’s all valuable, helpful safe interaction I feel.

  • Janice Brantner

    I read a quote recently about part of wisdom being realizing that not everything needs our comment. I’ve made a commitment to myself never to comment on any of those huge discussions involving thousands of people. I do sometimes read them, and it’s obvious that most of the comments there weren’t needed either.

  • This is one of the best, most helpful and most mature blog entries I have ever seen. Thank you for posting it.

  • ChuckQueen101

    Very good! Great advice.

  • gimpi1

    Well-said.

  • Janice Brantner

    I think this is appropriate here –
    “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge… is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.”
    Bill Bullard

  • Timothy Weston

    Thank you for this article as it is something that needs to be heeded by everyone. I have come to accept that opinions and views are ingrained on all sides.

  • Bill

    These are things I need to work on. Thanks for the post

  • Amy Aletheia Cahill

    I agree. I have done my share of moderating online support groups, which are in some ways even more prone to the kinds of trolls you reference here. Some people are just jerks. My exception IS an exception. I sympathize with being a moderator anywhere on the Internet having to deal with someone who has decided he/she has nothing better to do than make lives miserable. The rest, though, can be reached, I think. :)

  • Jennny

    Personally I can switch off, not read and delete troll-comments. Years ago, before incoming phone calls were so traceable, I got calls from a ‘heavy breather’ so just put the phone down every time. I read in the newspaper of a woman driven almost to suicide by a caller threatening violence to her and her family and saying he knew where she lived. Why on earth did she let him get that far and not end the call?………he’d achieved exactly what he wanted. Engaging with trolls is the same to me, just don’t do it!!

  • Matthew

    I often wonder what our discussions would like if we were all around a table talking about one of Benjamin´s posts instead of electronically sharing our viewpoints. I tend to think A LOT different!

  • Meop79

    Love it.

  • Dennis

    Overall these are good rules to keep in mind. It’d be nice if admins on many social media pages borrowed from you when creating their page rules.

    A couple comments though. Regarding rule #2, it is very possible that you are seeing the real personality when the sender has the privilege of being hidden behind the cloak of anonymity. They have the intelligence and common sense to act proper in public but when at a keyboard you just might see the real them. How many times have you heard it said of an accused or convicted criminal that others just didn’t think they were capable of such things. I think people even said similar things of Bundy.

    WRT to #4, there are just some mean people in the world. Often you need only look to the local state prison to find some of them. Beware as they are in society too and trolling the Internet.

    One addition that you might consider is that it’s hard to convey emotion over the Internet. I have riled a few over the years because they didn’t know how to take my words. While meant to do no harm the receiver didn’t always take them that way. Choose your words carefully and use emoticons and emojis when possible to help insert emotion. Also, add a clarifying statement specifying intent.

    Good article all in all