‘I’ll hunt you down and kill you... on Facebook’
How to respect your online community and avoid prison (or embarrassment).
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I enjoy being part of a busy online world where I can interact with others on a daily basis, but one thing I can’t understand is the devolution of conversations to the point that total strangers are threatening to harm each other over minor disagreements. I find it especially repugnant when these threats include the exposure of children to harm.

Community management 101

As part of an online parenting community myself, I know how it feels to be a community manager. I know that there are guidelines on websites and Facebook groups about what kinds of behaviour and language will be tolerated- and yet we find ourselves having to reprimand commenters for infringements. We don’t want to be bossy in that sense; we’re just there to facilitate the conversations.

Terrifying threats

What upset me recently was hearing that a friend had been attacked en masse in a thread in a Facebook group (not Parent24), one that is there to provide resources and support for moms. A misunderstanding led to outright insults and, from one participant, the naming of the child’s school and a threat of physical violence against the child and the child’s parents.

Huh?

Now, if I had been that parent that had been threatened, I would have had a couple of choices. I could have taken screen grabs and opened up charges of harassment, or contacted the community manager to highlight the post or I could have simply ignored it as senseless online bullying.

Threaten my kids? You’re going to be facing a legal problem

The point is, we join closed groups in the expectation that our fellow members will behave. And yet these arguments over trivialities escalate every day, with strangers attacking others over nothing. Although we can limit what other users see of our profiles, it’s pretty easy to track down the offenders. So you may think you are insulting or threatening someone from behind a fake or private identity, but you could be tracked down and you could face criminal charges for what you’re saying online.

Now that’s a bit heavy. The fact is, the bigger an online community, the more diverse the opinions will be. The saying “you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to” applies. Positive, creative, constructive and supportive comments? Sure, bring them on. Being constructive is an especially important concept to apply. It allows you to share why you disagree and offer a constructive response or an alternative solution. Tolerance is another great tool.

Feeding frenzies

One of the ugliest things to witness is a mob of commenters attacking an individual on social media. Too often it reveals more about the negative aspects of the attacker’s personalities than anything healthy. Where does all that anger and bitterness come from? Surely it interferes with your ability to be happy? And are there not better ways of working it out than to tear a stranger to pieces like a shoal of piranhas driven by bloodlust?

I have seen the fallout of these conversations. People saying that they just wanted a group that was kind and supportive and they’d rather leave the group than put up with a status update with 300 insults in the comments thread.

And that’s how communities fall apart.

Here are three tips for group participants:

•    Ask yourself if what you’re thinking of saying is helpful or destructive.
•    Would you say it in real life to a real person?
•    Should you rather say nothing and maintain your online integrity?

If you’re spending your days and nights in perpetual online rage, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

As parents, we’d do anything to protect our children against bullying, and yet many parents engage in bullying as a pastime.

I’d love it if we could lose the anger and build the kindness. It’s a tough world out there, and we need the love.

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Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Have you ever been attacked in an online conversation? How did you respond?

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