Self-Censorship of the Internet

When was the last time you felt like this?

I feel like this quite a lot. (Tell me this is normal!) But since I have no intention of either (a) getting into constant fights online, or (b) never sleeping, I do my best to self-censor the internet.

To that end, I generally try not to read things that I know I’m going to vehemently disagree with (unless it’s written by someone I already know who will respect my right to have a different opinion). And when I do read something that sets my teeth grinding and my spine tingling and my fingers aching to rain down an almighty correction, I self-censor. That is, I don’t comment. I don’t argue. I rarely say anything at all.

I’ve learned the hard way not to read:

  • Comments on news stories.
  • Bad reviews of books I love.
  • Articles and blogs that make light of abuse or abusive situations.
  • Articles and blogs advocating any religion or religious belief at the expense of all other opinions.
  • Anything that has my teeth grinding within the first two sentences.

Let me be clear: I would never try to tell you what you should and shouldn’t write on your own blog. You have every right to express your own views on their own website. That’s your personal space. And I have every right not to read what you write on your blog. I also have every right to respectfully disagree with you, or politely share my own opinion on your blog.

But that’s not enough for some people. Some people seem to feel the need to leave angry comments and start arguments everywhere they go. Some people feel the need to personally attack another person’s opinion, life, and right to a different point of view. And that’s not cool.

Complaining about what someone has on their personal blog is like visiting someone’s home and bitching about the carpet. It’s rude. It’s wrong. And it’s likely to get you thrown out on your ear. If they ask you what they think of their carpet, tell them it’s not your style. That’s fine. But don’t start ripping up their carpet and laying your own,  expecting that they’ll thank you for it. (Especially when your carpet seriously clashes with their curtains.)

If a few more people self-censored their desire to be right at all costs, or at the very least tried to be as polite online as they are in the meat-world, perhaps the internet would be a less confrontational place.

Do you self-censor the internet? Have you run across people who should self-censor before they comment?


Filed under Opinion

35 responses to “Self-Censorship of the Internet

  1. Absolutely love this post. Wish everyone would abide be this inner compass. Gave you a shout out on my Monday round up, this post is a must read. I wish it were a must read, anyway.

    Thanks for putting it out there. Maybe some will listen? (talking to all trolls)

  2. You’re totally right. I think the people who float around leaving nasty comments on articles and blogs. I think – they need to get a life. Seriously.

  3. I now never comment when I vehemently disagree so you can tell I agree with your point of view since this comment is here. I’ve done it a few times on news articles about hydrofracking, and the vitriol in other people’s responses was just too awful. They were not attacking my position, just attacking me for being stupid, worthless liberal scum. I also don’t add my two cents to someone’s Facebook post of crazy horribleness because it goes nowhere.

    • I love a good debate; a good offensive and defensive trading of verbal blows. But only when the discussion is centred around the topic being discussed, not when it’s all about personal insults. It’s amazing how quickly some people devolve into online arguments that essentially amount to them calling each other poopy heads.

      (Also, thank you for not vehemently disagreeing with me. I look forward to your comments.)

  4. Jo, this is wonderful. Sure, maybe I think it is wonderful because I agree with you wholeheartedly. Whatever.
    I self-censor frequently. The few times where my opinion gets the best of me I often regret it immediately. And yes, I’ve run across several folks who should self-censor.

    • Lenore! Wow, you’re here! I feel like I should tidy up the place, maybe put out some fresh pot-plants or something and offer you some lemonade. You know, the way you do when a friend of a friend turns up at your house, and you’ve heard about how cool they are, and you’ve seen them around at some of your other friends’ houses and really wanted to hang out, but didn’t really know what to say… Or is that just me? Anyway, welcome! 😉

      I’ve occasionally felt that same sense of immediate regret and wished I could take back the last ten seconds. (Do you also type out long, carefully worded comments with rational arguments for a different point of view, and then delete the whole thing before posting it? …just me again?)

      • You crack me up!
        And yes!! I try to type out a well worded response, even towing a middle of the road approach to tone it down a bit. On the good days, I think better of it and delete it entirely. On bad days, I click ‘submit’ and slam my head on the desk. 🙂
        Thanks for tidying up. I like what you’ve done to the place.

      • See, I knew it wasn’t just me!

  5. My issue lately is sort of trying to carry on with my sense of humor (because it’s pretty much all I have left these days), and I get people just sort of taking swipes at me from the side because they don’t know (?), understand (?), appreciate (?) my style. Under ‘normal’ circumstances, I’m fine with this, but I’m a little depleted right now, and feel like if you can’t figure out what I just wrote was supposed to be funny, perhaps you shouldn’t be reading my blog at all.

    • You know what? If they can’t figure out that you’ve got an awesome sense of humour (which you do!), they don’t deserve to be reading your blog. Unless you’re putting a gun to their head, they have a right to not read something they don’t agree with. (You’re not putting a gun to anyone’s head, right?)

  6. This is a tough one, for me. I’m like you in that I largley self-censor. And when an argument gets started, more often than not I simply stop showing up to argue my point and make my case. Because it’s mentally taxing and draining to do so: it takes a lot of energy to keep going back and forth with someone who you know isn’t going to be swayed anyway, so why bother? (This usually only happens when I post my own opinion somewhere on my own private space and I get negative comments back from people who disagree. I shouldn’t have to defend my opinions on my own space, nor give up arguing them there, but I do. Often. Because there’s not enough time in the day.)

    • Your essay-posts do tend to draw a lot of opinions, don’t they? I often don’t weigh in unless I’ve got something new to add (Saying “Yeah, me too!” is a little lame when you’re replying to something as well researched and written as your essays are!) or my opinion varies. But there’s really no excuse for people attacking your point of view multiple times when they can just as easily click away from the site or post their own opinion on their own blog.

      • Heh, those essays aren’t even what I’m talking about. I’ve never been bothered by anything anybody posted in reply to one of the essays on my blog. No… I’m talking about whenever I post even a link to an article on my facebook wall. Those links tend to make clear my political opinions (short version: an appreciation for science and history and zero patience for people who either ignore or abuse either of those in order to push their own political ideology), but most of my facebook “friends” are church acquaintances who do not share my political beliefs… and they’re not shy about telling me they think I’m wrong.

      • Really? I haven’t ever noticed that. Possibly because I’m too busy clicking through all the interesting links to read the comments.

      • Are we facebook friends? Most of the folks I interact with on blogs – my writing peers and friends – I thought were all blog-friends only… I don’t recall crossing the lines from my blog buddies to facebook…

      • Um. *shuffles feet* Right. I just re-read your last comment, and realised I’d iread it incorrectly. My brain somehow skipped the concept of posting to your FB wall and only noticed the “posting links” part, so I thought you were referring to your blog posts where you share a variety of links. My bad. (Note to self: Replying to comments when it’s almost midnight is possibly not a wise idea!)

      • No worries! I wouldn’t mind having some of my writing/blog buddies become facebook friends, anyway… It might help to balance some of the crazy on my current facebook friend list.

      • Well, you’ll find me at so feel free to friend me. 🙂

  7. I do censor. I don’t want to be that person causing conflict on someone else’s personal space. So far I haven’t received any harsh comments, but then again I mostly write about my dogs and how hot my husband is (and I wonder why I have so few followers!!). As soon as I start reading something that I don’t like or makes me uncomfortable I just leave. It’s so much easier.

  8. The Empress (aka Alexandra) sent me here & I’m glad she did. I actually have an aunt who used to re-arrange her mother’s furniture in her summer cottage, and she never EVER figured out why her mom wasn’t simply delighted to have her come over. Sometimes, for sheer vanity, I wish someone would pick a fight with me about something I’ve written (it’s never happened). Mostly, though, on the interwebs and in the webs of real life, I realize more and more how right my mother was, all those times she said “mind your manners, it matters.” She’s right: who has time for ego, or turf wars, or thumping on people just to make yourself feel better. Do something useful with all that energy and leave the rest of us alone.

    • Wow. I can’t even imagine the cahones you’d need to rearrange someone else’s house when you were just visiting. Crazy. Also crazy: Discovering our mothers were right all along. 🙂

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

  9. I tend to avoid disagreement and controversy on the internet (a result of my Quaker upbringing, probably). But I do disagree in situations when I can be pretty sure that stupidity and name-calling will not result. The blogs where I post regularly, for example, and I’ve also posted a couple of dissenting comments on the New York Review of Books blogs (I just talked about this on my blog).

    If I do feel really irate and eager to wade in, thogh, I almost always wait until the next day and see how I feel then.

    • Yeah, it’s a bit different when you disagree with someone you already know. I wouldn’t be concerned about posting a disparate opinion on your blog, for example, because we already have a relationship built on respect for each other’s viewpoints. And I certainly don’t mind when you disagree with me on my blog. It’s more the people who show up, resort to name calling, then disappear again who are the problem.

  10. Hubby and I struggle with this constantly.
    There are a couple of sites where he keeps the trolls at bay in comments because he feels it’s his duty to keep the conversations honest.
    Most of the time I try to avoid the conflict unless something tied to a personal interest is grossly misrepresented.
    I’m better at keeping the anger to a minimum, Hubby not so much.
    We both avoid book and movie reviews.

    • I’m probably more like your husband in that I tend to get quite angry about things. Fortunately I’ve taught myself to walk away from the computer when that happens.

      I’m glad to hear you’ve both worked out the best ways to deal with it. You know what they say, the first step is admitting you’ve got a problem. 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  11. Disagreeing with someone and putting forward a well organised, polite arguement is different from virtually yelling abuse at the writer. I quite like it when people disagree with me when they give me an opportunity to debate the issue in a calm manner. I will listen and respond then. If they point blank tell me I’m wrong in a rude manner without backing up their opinion I won’t even consider their point of view. In a debate (online or not) you should always be respectful of other people’s opinion, even if they aren’t of yours I try to take the high road – doesn’t always work, depends on my mood 😀
    Great post, hopefully they’re listening 🙂

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

      I’m always up for a good, respectful debate (in person or online), but there are so many people who don’t seem to understand the difference between attacking a point of view and attacking a person. But it’s really the comments that are clearly designed to make people angry which annoy me the most.

      I was participating in a discussion a few days ago (after writing this post, actually) where we were debating various styles of schooling. All of a sudden a newcomer joins in with the statement: “I’m not interested in knowing about xxxxxx because I love my kids.”

      See, that’s not a respectful comment. It’s rude and unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to make people angry.

  12. The cartoon is awesome. Did you do that? Love it. I think that the average internet troll is someone who has been having a bad day for a very long time. Best to ignore them until they work it out. If you want to weep for the future of our species just read the thread on ANY Yahoo “article”. I simply tell myself to back away from the scroll bar and pour a glass of wine. Much better…

    • Sadly, I’m not talented in the “drawing cartoons” arena. That’s one of the internet memes that’s been around for quite a while. I tried to figure out who it belongs to, but wasn’t able to track it back through the (apparently) millions of shares and reposts.

      (Dear cartoonist: If you’re reading this, I’d REALLY like to credit your work!)

      And anyone who drinks wine to avoid internet trolls is okay in my book. 🙂

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