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Is the Internet Making Us Mean?

I remember a time when, if you wanted to confront someone, you either had to handwrite it in a letter, say it on the phone, or (gasp) say it to their face.

If you’re on the interwebs ever, then it’s no surprise that many social niceties, such as please and thank you seem to becoming less and less common. What IS surprising is how people feel free to say–to total strangers–little gems like your mom is a bleeping ball of bleep without blinking. (Or maybe it’s not surprising..anonymity and all that.)

But even more alarming to me? How quickly and easily Christians get up in arms and react so angrily to topics that are truly trivial in light of real issues.

I’ve been told I must not be a Christian, that I’m a rebellious woman (okay then), a bad mom, “liberal,” and some other fun things in response to articles I’ve written. It’s my favorite when people assign motives to me based on one article of mine they’ve read. I’ve received private hate mail. A few years ago, it really bothered me. Now (insert Barney Fife sniff), not so much. 


Because I figure if a person can only resort to name-calling rather than discussing the true issues, they’ve already lost the argument. My parents taught me that back in grade school.

And also, if it’s an editorial piece–i.e., MY OPINION–I don’t feel a need to defend it. It stands or falls on its own merits. (Maybe some folks need to look up the definition of an ‘opinion piece.’) And honestly, strong reactions no longer upset me. I figure I’ve at least made people think, and that is something. It brings to mind this quote:

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

But when Christians react as strongly to an opinion piece or book review by someone they don’t know and probably will never meet as they would to something as important and harmful as, say, sex trafficking or world hunger…is it any wonder the world doesn’t take us very seriously?

Perhaps we need to take a step back and moderate our responses a bit.

Am I saying you can’t disagree or even have heated discussions with someone else? Of course not. But we can do it without personal insults.

How about a little civil discourse?


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11 Responses

  1. I honestly can’t imagine anyone sending you hate mail. And I’m sorry you’ve ever received it. I first experienced that when I started writing politically. I’ve decided hate mail comes from people who are very scared and the only tactic that might make you think twice about writing again is fear of more hate mail or of the hate mail coming true.
    And welcome to the world of being “liberal.” Labels are a waste of time, aren’t they? It’s the content of what we write that is the most important and placing a label on a person or even on their work is an attempt to take away a potential audience.

    I love the advice of your friend. I often re-read my comments before clicking. And I appreciate that some places, like Facebook, allow for deleting or changing a comment after the fact. We all make mistakes. At the end of the day, I appreciate honest feedback from people. Constructive criticism makes all of us better writers. But plain hatred? That just forces us into our corners and makes us fight all the harder.

  2. So true! I’ve been called uber-conservative, too, so I suppose that puts me right in the middle. I’m fine there. 🙂 And you’d be shocked. It’s so funny though–the pieces I really labor over and worry about don’t cause the reaction I expected, and then it will be something I think is completely innocuous that sets people off. Ah well! Who can explain people? 🙂

  3. With everything I have been experiencing online in the past few months or so I would have to say the internet is making people more mean. I live in an outside community from the military bases and we have a few resident social pages. It was originated as an informational page but soon turned into a “lets gripe about everything page”. I dont mind when a person complains at all, maybe posting on a public page is their way of dealing with it, but the complaints started to turn into threats or if someone disagrees with the person complaining it turns into down right bullying!! An example; a lady posted something about, ” cant we just appreciate what we do have” . Tjis ladies post was very respectful. In a matter of a couple hrs and over 270 comments this womans daughter was deleted from the group for sticking up for her mom (her comments were in no way disrespectful either) & then there was plenty of name calling (none of which came from the original person or her daughter). Its so very silly. The very sad thing is that I have personally met many of these women in person that are showing their cyber bully ways on the internet & they are not like that in person at all, in fact they are all very nice. I find this frustrating & makes me rethink possible friendships! I myself and a few other people I know in my community have pulled away from these pages and if we do post it gor info reasons only. Thanks for writing this article, it really hit home with my recent experiences.

    1. Linda, I am so sorry you have gone through this! It is really astonishing–and sad–how quickly things can escalate. :/ I hope you find some resolution!

  4. I remember the hate mail I received from my fellow Christians in 1999 when I posted a long, detailed discussion that clearly showed that Y2K would not be the end of the world as we knew it. My brothers and sisters in Christ called me a servant of the devil, a pawn of the power companies, and a filthy liar. One of them said that I was promoting an unrealistically pleasant view of the situation while buying up all the grain and dry goods I could so that when Y2K happened, I could sell the materials at whatever price I chose.Of course, since then, my fellow Christians have accused me of other nasty things, simply because I have written honest pieces about my views on certain aspects of Scripture.
    Yes, the internet is making us meaner, and it is very sad.

    1. Wow. That is just crazy! I think it is most troubling when it comes at the hands of other Christians. What is the saying? Something like “Some people cause as much harm with their ‘virtues’ as others do with their sins.”

  5. Yes, I think the cloak of the internet allows people to say cruel things that they wouldn’t say face to face. They feel safe in their ugliness and don’t realize the lasting damage they are inflicting. The recipient can go back and reread the mean words feeling their sting over and over again. The writer is safe from comebacks, retorts, and facing opposition. The writer can spew their meanness and run from the debate. Internet communication is damaging to a civilized society. Just my humble opinion 🙂

    1. So true and so sad. It has definitely not helped civilized discourse, yet I am so grateful for the connection with friends and other believers around the world, as well as the ability to work remotely!

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Hi, I'm Jen!

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