I’m trying to stand up to hate and I’m failing miserably

stand up to hate

By Mark Schaefer

It’s important to me to do what I can to make the Internet a better place. I realize the web is an infinite cesspool, but there are also opportunities in our sphere of influence to make a positive impact.

I do this in a number of ways. I try to set a positive example. I encourage others who set a positive example. And, occasionally, I try to call out people who cross a line into intolerance and hate. It’s easy to ignore hate on the internet but nothing will ever change if everybody just tolerates it.

Most of the time I have called out a person on hate I’ve failed. Big time.

Here are three examples of my dismal failures and lessons learned.

Situation One: The hater

Some time ago, a friend of mine was lashing out at people over the web in the most vicious manner. He was getting into name-calling and putting people down who didn’t agree with him.

I had met this guy a time or two and thought he was a pretty good man. So this hateful outbreak seemed uncharacteristic and I thought something must be wrong. What would make him flip like this? I reached out to him with compassion and asked him if he needed somebody to talk to. Was there something I could help him with?

To my shock, he then turned on me with the same vicious attitude and focused his epithets and name-calling toward me.

RESULT: Unfollowed and blocked.

Situation Two: The Intolerant

I have another friend who I KNOW is toxic. In fact she enjoys lighting people up with her radical views. She hasn’t always been that way. I think somewhere along the line she discovered she could stand out by shocking people. I imagine she enjoys being the Howard Stern of social media.

But a few weeks ago, she crossed a line. She posted an awful meme that dismissed people with physical disabilities. It was so over the top I would not even publish it here.

I wrote her and told her that the post was offensive and that she was better than that. She started out calm and explained that she can’t make people feel offended — They have to own their own feelings so if people were offended, she had nothing to do with it. She had the right to say anything she wanted to. I told her that nobody had the right to peddle hate speech.

She then turned violent in her tone and said that if I didn’t want to see such things in the world I should get off the internet and stay in my house. She goaded me, seemingly trying to raise my emotional level, and suggested that I unfollow her. Which I did.

RESULT: Unfollowed and blocked.

Situation Three: The spammer

A pet peeve of mine is the cold-call spam we receive on LinkedIn. I’ve written about my view of what LinkedIn networking courtesy should be several times, trying to at least make a dent in people’s perceptions.

When I get LinkedIn spam, I ignore it the first time and second time. But if somebody is still coming after me after they’ve been ignored twice, I send them the link to one of my articles. This usually makes them understand my point.

Except last week. The three-time spammer sent me very long diatribes explaining that he had spent good money on a course that taught him how to make money on LinkedIn and that I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about. He took the course so he was an expert and this is the way business was done on LinkedIn. Spamming as strategy.

Instead of taking his “expertise” elsewhere, he continued haranguing me in a belittling manner, trying to justify his position and beat me into submission.

RESULT: Unfollowed and blocked.

Lessons learned trying to change the world

I know there are some out there who will be thinking “wow, what a bunch of assholes” … and perhaps they are. That is part of human diversity I suppose.

But in situations like this, I go inside myself first and reflect on my part of the failures. What was my role? Could I have done something better? Here are some thoughts on handling conflict on the internet.

People are people

Despite the situations, these people were all human beings with human emotions. I put them in an embarrassing situation by calling them out. Maybe somewhere deep inside they knew they were wrong but their defense mechanisms took over and there was a counter-attack. I can understand that. Most people are sensitive to criticism.

I either have to expect a counter-attack or find another way around it.

The connections were not deep

The Hater and The Intolerant were sort of friends. I had met them face to face a time or two, we shared some laughs many years ago. But they were not close friends at all. The LinkedIn spammer was a complete stranger.

I think it would have made a difference if these were people who had a shared history with me, who knew I didn’t have some other agenda. There have been times when a true friend crossed a line and listened to me, so I think depth of relationship matters.

What about my tone and words?

I tend to be business-like and direct. Maybe I should have buttered them up with some friendly chit-chat first … a spoonful of sugar so to speak?

Would people be more open to criticism if it were part of a flow of conversation instead of a bang on the head?

Should I be saying anything at all? Who made me the integrity cop? Should I just let this stuff go?

Dents in the world

So what is the conclusion?

Obviously I am not a perfect person and there are always things I can do to be better. But at this point in my life. I don’t want to tolerate hate. I don’t want to tolerate intolerance. I don’t want to accept lazy marketing practices that annoy us, abuse our privacy rights, and give the marketing profession a bad name.

Although I probably failed in these instances, I don’t know the impact for sure. Maybe I made a dent. Maybe after their rants they wondered if I had a point. I’ll never know. But maybe.

One thing for sure is that I don’t want to whine about the world without trying to do something about it. I want to make a difference but I’m not sure I’m having much success.

I’ll try to do better next time … but I will keep trying.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy of Unsplash.com

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