In the 20-something years since the first ISPs brought Internet to the masses, online behavior has shifted. Originally, people used the Internet for research, communication, and information sharing. They still do that, but as the process of creating and adding content has become easier, things have grown considerably less formal – and, I fear, more adolescent in the process.
That last thing disturbs me, because it points to the growing teenification of the Web. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about teen as in the number of years someone’s been alive. I’ve met hundreds of kind, responsible people between the ages of 12 and 19 who are often more mature than a number of so-called adults I know.
I’m talking about the people who post pictures, videos, blog entries, and comments, apparently without giving thought to what the consequences will be or who may be hurt as a result. Or worse, posting something specifically to hurt someone else. These users are indulging in the sort of impulsive behavior which is usually associated with people who are no longer children, but have not yet reached an adult level of maturity. If it gives the person doing the posting a few minutes of satisfaction, or the chance to get even with someone, he/she will do it. Spread gossip. Start rumors. Post that video.
For lack of a better term to describe this behavior, teenager will have to do.
Teenagers tend to rationalize bad behavior.
After all, it’s not the poster’s fault that someone else believed the rumors or was caught on camera behaving badly. Sure, everyone acts like a jerk once in a while. Okay, maybe the person doing the posting does some things he/she really wouldn’t want anyone else to know about. That’s so not the point, because the person being posted about shouldn’t have been acting that way in the first place, right? Besides, sharing it with the rest of the world is okay if it’s true, right?
Teenagers tend to seek permanent solutions to temporary problems.
Angry because someone treated you badly? Get even by going online and talking trash about that person. Post unflattering pictures. Paint that person in the worst possible light. That’ll show ‘em. Never mind that once something’s posted online, it’s out there forever and there’s no way to take it back.
Teenagers tend to act without considering the consequences of their actions.
You have a video of your best friend getting so drunk he/she can’t even stand up? Or a picture of your super-hot girlfriend naked? Post it! Someone’s parents, teachers, friends, future employers, or even future in-laws might stumble across the posting later on, but why should that be a problem now?
Teenagers tend to react in ways that are disproportionate to the situation.
Did a girl insult you at school? Then by all means, go online and talk smack about her. Malign her character. Hurt feelings versus public humiliation and permanent damage to someone’s reputation. Yup; that’s balanced.
To the people who think this way, I have one thing to say: grow up. That’s the thinking of a child. If you’re old enough to be posting content that could harm someone else, then you’re also old enough to know that’s not how people should treat one another. We can choose not to deliberately cause someone else harm.
Does this mean the person being posted about shouldn’t be held accountable for his/her actions? Of course not. But no one does the right thing all the time. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to be treated with compassion when they stumble. That’s compassion, as in being kind to fellow humans. As in, being aware of the pain that could result from a certain course of action – and choosing not to take it. In other words, it involves being willing not to rub someone’s face in his/her mistakes, because one day the shoe may be on the other foot.