You can call me naive, you can say I’m idealistic but there is something that has been bothering me a lot lately and I need to get it off my chest.
People on the internet can be really shitty sometimes.
Now, before I get into this, let me make it clear that I am not talking about internet trolls. They are awful, but we know they’re awful and to be honest, so do they. I’m talking about regular people who once they sit behind a keyboard lose all sense of respect, kindness and general politeness.
I, as many parents do, belong to a number of parent forums on Facebook. I use them as a way to feel connected to other parents when it feels like everything is going wrong and I just need a little support from the parenting community. You know those days when your children are refusing to eat anything vaguely resembling fruit and veg, your living room looks like a bomb exploded and you have resorted to the never failing babysitter that is CBeebies before 11am. On those days it’s nice to have a space to go where you can vent your frustrations, or worries about your parenting while hearing from like minded parents who are going through the exact same thing. None of us want to feel alone and those groups can be a godsend in your hour of need.
However, there is another side to those groups and it is really toxic. For some reason many people use these groups to get medical advice about their children. I suppose they see it as the equivalent of asking your neighbour what to do in certain circumstances. I personally would never ask the internet for medical advice because I tend to prefer people who have had years of training in the field (but each to their own). Anyway, when these requests for advice come there is the usual 100 comments from various members of the group offering all sorts of ideas and suggestions. I rarely get involved as more often than not someone has already said what I would say and also, I am not a medical professional. I am a stay at home mum whose only experience is the very limited study of my own two children.
Occasionally, however, I will comment but I have one rule. Never actually give advice.
I realise this sounds ridiculous. Why comment on a thread of advice if you don’t have any to offer? Well, the reason being is that, like I said. I’m not a professional. What I do offer though is factual information. I share independent research on subjects such as the age at which you should start children on solids. I offer up links to website pages that answer the specific question such as NHS.org.uk and I more often than not tell them to check with their Health Visitor, GP or Midwife. Sometimes I may say what I did with my children in that situation but always with the caveat that what works for me, may not work for anyone else.
What do I get in return? More often than not I get a lot of hate.
It seems that there is a large contingent of people in these groups who think that it is perfectly ok to not just disagree with me (as is their right) but to ridicule me, tell me I’m a bad parents because of decisions I’ve made and at times caused me to leave the group due to the level of anger levied at me. This seems like a ridiculous over reaction to someone saying ‘I don’t have all the answers but your healthcare provider might’.
When I see someone speaking about vaccinations in a negative way. I don’t ridicule them, I don’t get angry at them and I don’t make them feel wrong. I vaccinate my kids and while I believe that’s the right choice, I understand that others don’t and arguing with them or making them feel defensive is not the way to get them to see my point of view. I see it as much more valuable to fully understand their point of view and allow a conversation to flourish.
This habit that so many of us seem to have fallen into of immediately reacting in an angry way, a way in which we wouldn’t do face to face is increasingly dangerous. It puts up walls where the internet should be knocking them down. It creates boundaries and divisions where we could be supporting one another.
I’m sure you’ll read this and tell me to just stop commenting and maybe I will, but what a sad situation it is where I feel afraid to support another parent for fear of a hate filled response? If we all stopped commenting, all stopped trying to offer a hand of guidance or sign-posting how can people who really need help expect to get it? When I was in the midst of dealing with birth trauma it was someone suggesting I speak to my health visitor that got me to actually realise that what I was feeling needed dealing with, that it wasn’t ‘normal’ and that my health visitor might be able to guide me further. If I hadn’t got that advice I might still be crying every day and hiding from the world.
To be honest I don’t really have an answer for how to deal with the negativity online, expect to write posts like this, make videos on the subject and to keep asking people in the groups to be respectful of one another.
Have you ever seen a backlash to comments you’ve made? If so, how did it make you feel? How did you handle it and do you continue to get involved in online discussions? Let me know in the comments. I am genuinely asking for advice and I promise not to be mean in return.