There’s no shortage of negative stories about the pernicious influence of the internet. Every day we see stories about cyber bullies, predators, trolling, scams and cons, racism, sexism. It’s tempting to think the internet is a pit of depravity and that contact with it will tarnish you. I don’t think it has to be that way. I think if you approach it in the right way the internet can make you a better person, not a worse one.
You can learn to be more questioning of your own ideas and attitudes. Don’t only read blogs and articles and tweets from people you agree with. Read the words of people who challenge your opinions. I’m not saying go and follow the blogs and tweets of racists, homophobes and misogynists. What I mean is find people who point out the problems and issues in the causes you may hold dear – or at least in how they are pursued in the real world.
Do this at every level. Don’t just do it about big serious issues. Read the posts pointing out the problematic aspects of a TV show you love, or of a fandom. Be prepared to see the word “privilege” a lot and learn to examine yours. You’ll become more sensitive to issues you’d never considered before. This doesn’t mean you have to stop liking a show or movie or genre you enjoyed before. But it will make you consider it more deeply.
And read the comments. I know what they say: “Never go below the line! Don’t read the comments on newspaper articles and blogs, especially those that deal with hot button issues!” But I think not reading the comments is like burying your head in the sand. Sometimes you should take a look. Don’t read them just to be outraged and upset. Read them to be aware of the kind of hate and abuse some groups still face every day. Read them so you know there is still a lot of work to do. Read them to see the kind of crap women columnists and bloggers still have to put up with whatever them write about.
And read them sometimes for the counter view to the point of the piece. Those can make you question what your own reaction to the piece was. Did you accept it without question? Did you reject its premise, but for a different reason?
So do you think the internet can make is better people? Broaden our minds? Or is a hell’s waiting room?