Kind offline, unkind online: A how-to guide on spreading kindness through the screen
Being unkind, it happens in numerous ways. Unintentionally or intentionally. On social media, or via email, and undoubtedly, on gaming platforms. Allow me to list two from a long list:
Direct unkindness – Because “it’s not a big deal”:
“You take pictures of every single thing you see? It’s kinda stupid lol.”
“The amount of makeup you applied, ugh. You look better without it.”
“You just don’t know how to play it. Might as well not play at all.”
Indirect unkindness – Because it’s ‘easier’ to criticize a person with someone else:
“She’s just a clout chaser, why else will she post so much on her socials?”
“She’s so ugly, who does she think she is? Beyonce?”
“I don’t like the way she talks in class – as if she’s a know-it-all.”
Welcome to learning how to be kind online – no, correction – learning how to NOT be unkind.
It might not be the most pleasurable read, considering it can feel like an expose (myself included) – however, you can still rant on your Twitter about how you didn’t like this article.
Most would define kindness as “being considerate, generous and friendly on the internet”.
However, being unkind online has its own separate definition.
Definition: Pretending to be soft offline but having a strong sense of confidence online exploited to your benefit, only to hurt other people.
Such is the power of the internet. You develop a new face. As ‘Gen Z’ would call it, you’re ‘two faced!’
Is it cyberbullying? Perhaps not, but it’s still nasty.
Cyberbullying, according to UNICEF, can be defined as bullying with the use of digital technologies – and mainly includes spreading rumours and misinformation, sending hurtful messages or threats, or impersonating someone for the wrong reasons. Being unkind online can be either on the higher or lower end of the cyberbullying spectrum or may not be cyberbullying at all. However, it is still unkindness.
Maria Thomas [name changed] shares her experience on how she was called “dumb” on the gaming application ‘Among Us’. “Someone called me dumb, just because I supported the imposter [in the game, crewmates must try to detect who the imposter is, especially if the player acts suspicious].
“Despite being called dumb, I carried on playing the game and the other player ended up making a silly mistake. I jokingly asked: who is the dumb one now? Following that comment, I was kicked out of the game,” recalls Thomas. When asked whether the xx-year-old minded the player’s language, she simply said, “At first, I did not mind when the player called me names because I usually play games with a light-hearted mood. However, when I showed the same strategy back at him clearly as a joke, he felt very offended by it.
“It was ridiculous for the player to just remove me out of the game. I may not know who the person behind the absurd username is, but his irrational decision was unnerving for a sensitive person like me with fluctuating self-esteem,” she added.
Calling names online may sound easy especially when it does not take place face to face, however, one should consider the impact left by the words uttered online, on people’s minds. Thomas concluded that nobody should ‘oblige in hurting another’s feelings for the sake of putting on a fake persona that he/she thinks would impress other online gamers in the group’. She urges gamers to ‘be kind and considerate to other people’s feelings online’.
Thomas’ two cents: “Be kind online to everyone, don’t be selective about who you want to be kind to and whom you want to put on a fake persona with, just to look ‘cool’.”
Banter or unkindness?
It’s hard to be unaffected by unkindness, but maybe harder to overcome having that trait. However, Hadi Abdul Latheef, a student at Middlesex University Dubai is confident that there is often the moment of realisation when you begin to believe someone actually has feelings. Shocking? Maybe. He shares his story of being among those who mock other students.
“Back in the school days, we used to have bullying groups in class. But we also personally attacked guys. At the time, we brushed it off as banter. But to be fair, it gets to you at one point. We would give nicknames to people, talk about something embarrassing that they’ve done, and tease them over and over again. During social gatherings too, we would pull that story back up again and remind them: remember the time you did this and that. Back in the day, I never really thought if a particular text could affect anybody. Now there’s more knowledge and that, I ensure, is not going to happen”, he said.
Latheef also thinks that it depends on the relationship with the other person too. Surely, if you called your best friend a ‘noob’ or an ‘idiot’, it should not turn into a sob story, should it?
He said, “If you are really close with them, you know it is just a level of banter. Dark humour, dark jokes, teasing and annoyance. Unless someone comes and tells me that this is kind of uncomfortable. I’m a very joking person. I joke a lot with people and that’s kind of me, you know. But then if someone comes and tells me “yo, I did not really like that joke”, I’ll be like okay cool, I’m not going to make that joke again.”
Identifying the line – is it too Karen* to take immediate offense to everything?
Latheef sighs as he says, “I feel like people have the tendency to take everything too personally or take offense to everything nowadays, not sure why that is – especially when it can genuinely be just a light-hearted joke.” He adds on to say that when somebody is affected by something said online, they should make clear of how they feel. “Everybody should respect each other’s line [in that case] because you don’t know how everyone’s going to react to the same joke, different people have different tolerance levels,” he said.
Hadi Latheef’s two cents: “Be kind, because you might not know what a person is going through mentally and physically and some jokes might get to them, leading them to go through some phases and all of that. You really don’t want to be the reason someone else is really sad or going through hell because of what you say.”
Is there a reason as to why a person may be unkind online?
With all that talk about unkindness, it’s important to know why a person takes some time out of their precious hours to hurt others. Why would someone want to hurt another person? Dr Rebecca Steingiesser, Clinical Psychologist & Clinical Neuropsychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia has the answer.
She said, “There are several different reasons as to why people can be unkind online and these tend to reflect the underlying psychology of the person acting in this way. Behaving in an unkind manner online can occur if someone wishes to dominate others and improve their social status, has low self-esteem, feels angry or frustrated and/or has a lack of remorse of fails to recognise their behaviour as a problem. It is commonly reported that people who bully others online tend to struggle socially themselves or may have been the victim to bullying or unkind communication with others online themselves.”
Mistaking a text message as ‘unkindness’ – is that a product of overthinking?
Taking text messages seriously online is common especially among youth groups [slyly raises hand]. From someone leaving you on seen to responding curtly to endless paragraphs, it can be natural for one to assume that the other person is being ‘unkind’ and inconsiderate of your feelings.
Dr Steingiesser advises, “It’s important to first ask yourself, do I know this person? If you know the person and you are generally friends with them, it’s worth checking in with them about their comments and asking more about their intention for the comment. This can help clear up any possible misunderstanding.”
What if you don’t know them, though? Dr Steingiesser simply has four words for you, “Don’t feed the trolls.” She also adds: “It’s rarely worth tackling and responding to those sorts of comments as there is a greater chance of the negative interaction spiralling out of control. It doesn’t mean, however, that there is no room to combat that sort of behaviour.”
Dr Steingiesser’s two cents: A quick email can remind someone who just didn’t think before they typed, that their message came across to you as sounding aggressive or thoughtless. While you may not get an apology, this will encourage others to think through their comments more carefully in the future.
When was the last time you sent in an ‘unkind’ text to someone? Off you go, apologize and be kinder online.
Karen: [pejorative term used when someone questions everything appropriate, simply because they may believe they have the privilege to do so]