Tech & The Web

The Internet: Haven for Rudeness?


Perhaps the greatest unintended contribution to our society emerging from the internet is the speed and ease with which one can be rude to his fellow man.

Scan comments on almost any Facebook page and see what I mean: people, some of them otherwise well-mannered, who are snarky, snotty, belligerent or just plain mean. When they could just as easily express themselves and their discontent, disapproval or disagreement with the slightest hint of humility.

Then there was the Olympics. The Twitterverse unloaded a special kind of hate on NBC for its coverage of the games. I saw several complaining that NBC’s coverage couldn’t touch that of the BBC. Of course, the two networks serve two quite different audiences; it would be unusual for the two networks to have looked like twins. But the network’s Bob Costas became an easy target for some of the nastiest Olympics-related tweets of the week.

All of society, thank goodness, hasn’t succumbed to the smartassery with which others seem to delight themselves. But plenty of people wasted no time in adopting snark over social graces.

Ironically, three of the rudest encounters I’ve ever experienced on Twitter came from people who are frequent participants in a Twitter chat focusing on, of all things, etiquette. Go figure.

One of them displayed his rudeness during a chat we were having on Twitter about how to broadcast a message to chat communities. At one point during the discussion, as I was trying to explain that there is more than one way to look at a situation, he decided to compare the number of Twitter followers we have: he has 17,000+ and I have a “mere” 2,000. Using those two numbers, he asked me which one I thought knew more of what he was talking about.

You know, it would never occur to me to be so arrogant to someone else. If I had a disagreement about Twitter with someone who had only 200 followers, I’d never try to point out that I have ten times the number of followers my “adversary” has, and that I therefore should be regarded as an “expert.” But then, I suppose that’s because I wouldn’t consider him an “adversary” to begin with.

I don’t agree with everyone, and vice versa. Just because I have a different opinion about something doesn’t make mine correct. It doesn’t automatically make mine wrong, either.

More people should keep that in mind when they deal with others.

The latest example came this week, when I noticed a “conversation” underway on Twitter between two people I follow. The topic was recent changes Twitter was making for third-party Twitter clients.

The article featured a nice block of social media jargon. Looking back on the situation, it appears that I misinterpreted a portion of the article. But I was still unclear — and still am — on another part. (I’ve concluded that the majority of it doesn’t affect me directly, and that’s why I haven’t yet gone to research the final part about which I wasn’t clear.)

In any case, I asked a question of the people in the conversation. This, apparently, was a misstep.

It wouldn’t have been, I suspect, if one of the people to whom I posed the question might have been a different person. And I suppose, having seen this person display great deals of sarcasm to others in the past, I should have known better.

Once in a while, despite witnessing such things, I have this tendency to try to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Some might suggest that I should work on this. I doubt I will.

When the response contained pretty much the same jargon that prompted the question, I asked a follow-up question. I know, I know: I’m a horrible person.

The response indicated that the person’s knowledge of the situation had come primarily from the article itself, but he included a link that he implied might be of further assistance. I was grateful, and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded him passing along a link for more information — if he knew of one — that would have allowed me to get answers to these specific things while simultaneously getting out of his hair.

But the link he sent resolved into a little animation from a site called

“LMGTFY” stands for “Let me Google that for you.” It creates links simulating a Google search bar, into which the terms used in the article type on one letter at a time as if someone is typing it live on the recipient’s screen. The simulated cursor then clicks the “search” button and in a blue rounded rectangle below, the words “Was that so hard?” appear.

I know how to do a Google search. I even get frustrated with people who post on forums questions that could be easily answered with one.

But forums are a little different: they rarely offer anything close to real-time conversation the way Twitter does. Even the person I tweeted the question had himself tweeted a question to the person who posted the link to the article!

The LMGTFY site essentially is a facilitator for snarkiness.

There’s an old saying that it takes more muscles to frown than smile. Similarly, it takes comparatively more effort to use that site than it would have to just tweet back a reply: it requires the sender to actually go to the site, type in the search terms, wait for the site to create a link, then return to Twitter and reply to the “annoying” question with that link.

Common sense suggests it would be so much easier, and so much less rude, for them to tweet back, “Don’t know” or “Not sure.” Or even “look it up.”

Not to mention faster.

The fastest response would have been none at all. The other guy in the conversation never responded. That’s fine, too: there’s no law saying you must respond to a tweet; a popular rule of etiquette is that if you have nothing nice to say, then keep quiet.

How we choose to interact with people speaks volumes about how much we value that person and the prospect of building any kind of online relationship with them. Not everyone wants to be your friend. Many people feel bothered by the thought of giving you the time of day. Building community, it would seem, is not a priority for them.

While some might have been angered by the use of that site, or even offended, I’m actually amused: I find it hilarious that someone would intentionally spend more time than they clearly believe I’m worth just to be snide. As far as I’m concerned, the joke, unquestionably, turned out to be on him, not me.

And so it goes.

Your Turn:

Have you ever encountered rudeness online? How do you typically respond?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.