(The following article originally ran on Huffington Post prior to the 2016 election. It has been revised to reflect the Internet age in 2018. Each day, the online world takes more steps towards evolving globally. There are pros and cons to this type of evolution. We take two of these steps forward and then two steps back, as you’ll read ahead.)
I need to begin by stating that I realize the ironies and hypocrisies in what I’m about to state. By beginning with the issue of “feeding the trolls,” I’m prostrating myself in cannibalistic fashion before the Temple of Internet Doom. However, I am going to address this very idea of the double standards we all live by.
When Donald Trump hits the keys of his computer, it’s a knee jerk reaction for so many of my friends to tweet back a reply. Despite this, we all realize his messages frequently serve as distractions from larger issues surrounding the presidency. If you are on Twitter and you follow those in the public eye, you’ve likely corresponded with them, replied to their tweets, or tweeted about them. It is human nature: We comment on the shows we watch, the news we read and the tweets we see. We are curious about others…Sometimes these are folks we’ve looked up to, are subsequently disappointed by, and then feel the need to express our dismay.
Some keep their statements on the Internet pithy, polite and respectful, while others hurl personal attacks that have nothing to do with the subjects at hand. “Go fix your meth teeth!” was one off-topic comment directed my way by a total stranger. Incidentally, this was a direct response to my posting an interview with a comedian to Facebook.
This is a very weird time in American history. Do you remember those days when “secret ballots” were valued, when your parents never told you who they were voting for? I do. My mother felt it was best to leave the conversations of “who are you voting for” out of social gatherings, while managing to respond to friends thoughts on policies and perceived presidential successes and mishaps. Of course, the Internet was not around at that time. The concept of sharing a thought per minute (as the best Tweeters, Instagramers and Snapchaters do today) was a foreign one. Discourse, of course, existed in those dark ages but without the platform that made “thought after thought” and “play by play” acceptable. It was understood then that we kept many of the things we’re prone to reveal today closer to our vests.
Several years ago, The National Jewish Outreach Program first promoted the idea of taking a weekend off – as orthodox Jews do when they keep the weekly Sabbath – from using all electronic communications. From sundown on Friday to sundown (plus three stars in the sky) on Saturday, Jews and non-Jews nationwide tried this out. Now, this may seem like a short amount of time to you, but if you’re as addicted to your phone as the majority of Americans are today, it is enough of a window to appreciate that you really CAN get by without texting, emailing, calling and checking.
You might miss a connection and the opportunity for last-minute plans, but you also see how freeing it is not having to worry about responding, being misconstrued when you post about politics or addressing people’s cynical and demanding questions. Yes, you can just put down the phone and like that, you cease to exist for a while in the digital world. You very well might open up your eyes to nature, other humans and all that is physically around you. Ironically, the head of Twitter took his own “electronics free” retreat recently. Users of his platform took to it to express their outrage with the message of: People are being maligned and bullied here and you’re taking a vacation?
When I responded to that Facebook creep who told me to fix my teeth, I just spurred him on further. My teeth are absolutely fine, so that didn’t hit a nerve. However, he did proceed to say a few other things… I’m not going to lie and say I’m not a sensitive person. I do think that there are many times when people’s comments can be cruel – and they know exactly how to fine-tune them so they are highly personalized. Comments can range from being bigoted, anti-Semitic, misogynistic to maniacally assassinating. The quality of one’s work can get ripped apart due to a perceived slight. Sometimes there are threats to meet you in person so you can see what that person is capable of in real life. I’ve read and seen talks of “death threats” on Twitter, but those are extreme and rare incidents.
The best and only thing you can do is keep doing. Keep writing, keep singing, keep acting, keep producing. Skeptics and cynics should serve to keep us on our toes, always humble and striving to do things better. You can read the comments and filter out the constructive advice from the insults, even salvageable pointers buried under a heap of crude remarks. If you look for what you can learn from “trolls,” realize you are evolving and determined to deliver the best final product after many (or several) approximations.
And you do need your leisure time…Which is why it’s wise to consider taking the Internet sabbatical mentioned above – at least for a few days.
When I address those in the public eye on Twitter (be it Real Housewives from Bravo or Donald Trump in the oval office), I’m guilty of the same thing I deplore, a form of trolling.While I’m not really sure anyone is paying attention, it’s also not like these celebrities have time to read and respond to my gripes. When they do, it’s surprising and I immediately feel regretful. I’m just commenting on what I see (whether it is on TV or via a news story), but how much am I impacting the world by weighing in on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram?
It is so tempting to respond to that which upsets and frustrates us. After all, we have a modern stage designed for those with grave “IRL” stage fright.
A Sabbath from the screens may be just what the doctor ordered.