These are all names I have been called online in the last week.
In the days since that conversation, I’ve tried to shake it off and forget about it. But it’s weighed on me heavily. I find myself thinking about it throughout the day, and wondering if that person ever thinks about me - the total stranger that she was talking to.
It amazes me the way the Internet has changed our lives. We have access to ideas and people in more ways than ever before. We have amazing learning opportunities - the ability to interact with those that in the past might have been totally out of reach. One of my favourite things about social media is the chance to have intelligent, engaging, and fun conversations with people who are way smarter than me.
On the other hand, one of the downsides of the Internet is the continued rise of what are commonly known as “trolls.” An online troll is someone who participates in a conversation simply to stir the pot. They rarely contribute something of value, or share any solid facts. They tend to take an extreme view, and they generally pepper their statements with name calling, ignorance, and hateful rhetoric.
Last week, I came face to face with a troll online. It was a casual conversation about a current topic, and it was passionate, but polite. Until the troll showed up. Suddenly, it turned dark and hateful. I spoke up in defense of those who where conversing politely, and the troll turned her attacks on me. I was shocked how quickly this perfect stranger unleashed names that I would never say to anyone, online or offline.
The entire experience caused me to consider something. Are we getting so numb that we can freely say things to perfect strangers on the internet that we would (presumably) never say to them face to face? Is this kind of 'right to hate' starting to infiltrate our daily lives, and affect the way we deal with clients, customers, and others? Are we starting, as a people, to feel like underhanded prejudice is ok? When we feel safe behind a keyboard and the anonymity of a screen, do we forget that our customer is watching?
In the Real Estate industry, we struggle to maintain a professional reputation. We struggle to explain our value to the customer, and we are always fighting against the reputation auto-created for us by our industry colleagues. Watching a member of the industry systematically ruin her reputation in front of so many spectators - simply because she felt anonymous in a sea of people she doesn’t actually know - was downright scary.
I don’t have answers to the questions I asked above. The entire experience left me shaken and thoughtful. I am left with only the quote below.
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” ~ Albert Einstein
Words have great power, my friends. Use them wisely.