The importance of being thoughtful and considerate when blogging and/or tweeting

Sarah Millican BAFTA

Today I was doing my daily surf of Buzzfeed (oh, the addictiveness of Buzzfeed!) when I came across this piece about British comedian Sarah Millican’s response to Twitter trolls who mocked the dress she wore to last year’s BAFTA ceremony.

I was so sad to hear Sarah talk about how her evening, of which she was so excited about and which should have been a night to remember, ended up ruined by the nasty comments made about her appearance. I wanted to give her a hug, to tell her it doesn’t matter, that she looked fantastic and that her dress is really pretty, and that haters would always hate and not to let them get to her. And I loved her response on Radio Times and how she wore the same dress again this year in a show of defiance to her critics.

And long after I read the story, it made me think. As far as online insults go, I’ve definitely seen way worse than the two Twitter comments Buzzfeed showed on that story about Sarah. But still it definitely struck an unpleasant chord with me. Those two comments could be comments that me and my friends could have made about any celebrity and their appearances. I’m the first to raise my hand and admit guiltiness to gathering around the latest photos of red carpet  celebrity appearances and judging their clothes, their hair, their shoes, etc – pointing out what we like or saying ‘good grief, what the hell is she wearing?!?’ when we see something we don’t like. (And I’m not proud of this either, but will save this to be discussed another time).

Still, there’s a big difference between sitting around a table with a cup of tea, looking at the latest copy of WHO magazine, making some flippant comment to your workmate about so-and-so’s dress and putting it out there on Twitter or online for the world to see. We forget that the people we write about and criticise can see what we’ve written about them, along with everyone else in the world, and that they have feelings too. I don’t think those two people who criticised Sarah’s outfit would have done it if they knew she had seen their comments (or at least I hope they wouldn’t). Even if you thought your friend’s outfit or a stranger’s outfit on a big night out was awful, you wouldn’t say it to their face because you wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings. And I think a lot of people forget that just because they’re saying something on the faceless, anonymous public forum of the Internet doesn’t make it any less worse or any less mean. And that’s why when I first started this blog and got a Twitter account, I realised very quickly that I had to think carefully about what I write about other people. Because they have feelings too.

It doesn’t matter who the person is or what they’ve done or what they think. For example, I’ve heard people talking about various reality show stars and how vapid and self-centered they are and how they’ve never done anything useful in their lives and how they should just curl up and die because they’re such a waste of oxygen. Talk like that always makes me uncomfortable because we forget how cruel and hard these words are. To judge someone for the way they live, to say someone should die just because we don’t agree with how they live their life? We forget that we don’t know these people. We forget that they are people too, and for all their faults and foibles, they too have feelings. That it doesn’t matter who you are, to go on the Internet and see nasty comments written about you, saying you are ugly or stupid or telling you to go kill yourself, is something no one should ever experience.

And it still doesn’t matter if they are a public figure who deliberately flaunt themselves or hog the limelight in order to draw attention and accolades, it’s no excuse of ‘oh, they’ve got to take the bad with the good.’  You might have a point to make, but if you can’t make it without being nasty and petty, there’s no point in making it at all. No one enjoys being hated or attacked by thousands of people. And it doesn’t matter how much of a scumbag they might be. As the saying goes, ‘be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ And also, none of us know what someone is going through until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. The seemingly most privileged person in the world might be going through some issues none of us would ever know about.

But it’s not just the really nasty comments I want to talk about here. Aside from the trolls, I don’t think most people set out to be deliberately hurtful. They might be petty, inconsiderate and unthoughtful, but (I hope) not deliberately cruel. But that’s why it’s important to realise that the written word, especially on the Internet and on Twitter, can have a devastating and lasting impact. It’s important to think twice before you hit the Publish button or the Tweet button. And that’s why I make an effort not to say anything nasty or hurtful about someone when I blog or Tweet. If I disagree with something someone has said or done, I want to make sure I’m putting out a rational, logical and reasonable argument out there, explaining my reasons for disagreeing with what they’ve said or done, rather than just striking out to hurt them as badly as I can.

I just want to share now my own mistake that I made of not following my own code of conduct. Some months ago, a certain male person made a couple of comments about female writers in general that provoked a heap of backlash on the Internet. I was one of those who were incredibly outraged and furious, shaking my head in disbelief. And I thought of a comment I could make in response to this and, without thinking, I put it on Twitter and I tagged him in my comment.

The moment I did it, I regretted it. I deleted my comment right away. I can’t actually remember what it was I said now – it wasn’t an outright nasty comment or a personal attack or or anything – but I do remember feeling uncomfortable with what I just said – I think it was something sarcastic. But I was definitely  not comfortable with it once I had said it.

This person had obviously said a very foolish thing and he has already been lambasted publicly by heaps of people over the world for it. He has apologised sheepishly and whether he is truly sorry for what he said, no one can know this but him. I did not agree with what he said and I think his comments reflected very badly on him, not just professionally but personally. But I also need to remember that, no matter what his opinions, he is also a person. With feelings. Who probably isn’t enjoying the fact that thousands of people around the world hate him very much now and have no problems about voicing it either. On the Internet. On their blogs. On public forums. On Twitter where they’re also tagging him.

And I didn’t need to add to that. Perhaps I could have responded by setting forth my own reasons for not agreeing with what he said. By providing a list of female writers and their works which would validate my reasons and invalidate his comments. But I didn’t need to be sarcastic or hurtful or petty. So I deleted my comment. And I was very glad that I did so. It served as a lesson to me, to remind myself to be thoughtful and considerate about what I write, whether it be on my blog or on my Twitter account or even just as a writer in general – because  the written word has a far more lasting effect than any of us can imagine.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I love this. It resonates with me because I too have made sarcastic comments on twitter that I didn’t necessarily have to make. Like mom always said – “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.”

    • MarilynChin

      Agreed! we need to remember what we say is a reflection of our character as well 🙂

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