Are you hurling insults at anyone that you disagree with, find offensive, or don’t understand fully? Or are you choosing to be kind online, even when the person on the other side of the screen has been unkind to you? The truth is we can choose whether we want to respond to cyberbullying with hate, anger, and rudeness or respond by being thoughtful, kind, and considerate. Choosing the latter is more likely to build your happiness, and the happiness of others, because kindness just may be the most effective antidote to both unhappiness and unkindness.
How to Respond to Cyberbullying
I’ll be the first to admit that handling online bullying can be challenging. Indeed, discourse online has degraded as the Internet increasingly becomes an outlet for our worst impulses. Being on the receiving end of cyberbullying, or even witnessing it, can hurt, make us angry, and lead us to seek revenge.
We tell ourselves, I have to tell them what they’re doing wrong so they’ll do it right next time. But in the long run, this approach makes them feel worse, possibly leading them to amp up their bullying, and admit it, it makes you feel worse too. You might feel vindicated in standing up for yourself, standing up for others, or for expressing your point of view, but it only leads to more negative emotions for you, for them, and for everyone who passively reads these comments. If we keep up this negative cycle, we are all headed to a really dark place—a place where kindness, compassion, and civility are no longer valued. So we have to learn to respond to cyberbullying in more positive and effective ways.
Think of Your Comments as Acts of Kindness
When you read a nasty comment online, instead of appeasing your desire to be right, to change others, or to shame others for their comments, think of your comments in terms of what they can do for the person receiving them. When your goal is to give the other person a gift that helps them, your comments become acts of kindness instead of retaliations driven by hate.
How to Be Kind Online
Acts of kindness are the nice things that we humans do for each other unexpectedly or without a reward. These are acts that someone does for you or you do for someone else. Engaging in random acts of kindness forces you to focus on the needs and feelings of others. As a result, you feel more connected to others and they feel more connected to you.
Is it hard to practice random acts of kindness in response to comments that evoke negative emotions in you? Of course it is! That’s why online discussions so easily go off the rails. But the truth is that it’s up to us to change the dynamic. Here’s how to do it:
- Question your assumptions. It’s natural for us to think we understand why someone is acting a certain way. We see their actions and make assumptions about who they are and how they think based only on this tiny bit of information. This can lead us to be the ones who treat people unfairly and unkindly, because we don’t understand others’ experiences and motivations. Maybe someone says something negative about one of our political beliefs. We think it’s because they are a jerk, but maybe it’s just because they believe a different approach would be the most helpful and kind.
- Lead with questions and curiosity. Before jumping to conclusions, ask questions to learn about the situation better. Yelling at people is certainly not going to make them believe differently or be any less of a bully. Instead, ask them questions like: It sounds like you see this situation differently. Can you share your perspective with me so I can better understand where you’re coming from?
- Clarify the value of your feedback. If others are open to answering your questions, you will likely better understand the causes of their actions and can respond more effectively. To be sure your responses are kind, make sure you can clearly articulate why the response you are giving is useful to the person. It probably would be helpful to say something like: I want to make sure we both understand each other’s perspectives so can I also better explain to you why I feel the way I do? By creating an environment where people can share and listen to each other, some bullying can be overcome.
I have heard of several online bloggers using this approach with trolls—showing interest in hearing their side—with great results. So give it a try when you encounter a cyberbully.
How to Respond to Trolls
Does rational, kind, considerate conversation work on trolls? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we mistake a cyberbully for a troll, so it’s on us to give people the benefit of the doubt. But usually trolls are a special kind of cyberbully—often the kind that wants to hurt you, get a rise out of you, or discredit you. They may not be interested in what anyone has to say. So responding to trolls requires a different technique. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t give them what they want. When you see other people being trolled, don’t respond to the troll, yell at them, or give them any attention whatsoever. Instead, praise kindness on the person being trolled. They need your love and kindness.
- Use trolling as a reminder to be kind to the person being trolled. Undo the negative comments of the troll by supporting the person being trolled. Write a kind, caring, or complimentary message to support them or whatever they’ve shared online.
- Consider offering a random act of kindness to the troll in a private message. Remember, no one is hateful or harmful to others unless they have personally been harmed in some way. So reach out to offer trolls kindness; they probably need it more than you think.
With these tools in your toolbox, you can use cyberbullying and trolling as opportunities to practice kindness. As a result, you can start to build happiness from situations that otherwise might have harmed your happiness.