I recently got caught up in a comment section on Instagram. This made me reflect on how we behave online and how we should behave online.
I need to tell you about something that happened and what this represents for me. I think it’s important, so please read this. In the last 2-3 days, I got caught up in an Instagram feud. It’s not something I consciously decided to start, it’s something that happened and I feel like I have to share this with you.
It all happened a few days ago when I left a comment on the profile of a travel Instagrammer. I had been following her activity for several months and she has some great pictures. But I always disliked the fact that she flies very much and often very irresponsibly (from one continent to another and then back and so on). However, she claims to care about the planet.
I tried to reach her 2 times – she answered once and quoted false information to justify her behaviour. When I told her that her information is incorrect, she ignored me. This last time, I replied to someone’s comment on her picture. Someone asked her why she blocks the followers that disagree with her. I proceeded to share my experience, saying that it seems she does not like to be challenged.
She somehow saw my comments and decided to answer. Anyway, I saw this as an opportunity to finally get an answer. I asked her if she considers that this much flying is sustainable and responsible (it is not). She claimed that it is because she is vegan. However, flying as much as she does has a much higher negative impact on the planet than her eating meat. You can hardly compare flying several times a month with eating a burger once in a while.
When I challenged her because she relied on false information, she ignored me again. And then something strange happened – the people who follow and admire her joined the talk. I never wanted to involve anyone else, but it happened. People started defending her and telling me to shut up. And here’s why this is relevant.
This interaction made me think about how people interact online and how the followers of certain people behave. And it made me think about how we interact – me and you, the person who follows me (for as long as you decided to). And I want to say a few things about what I think and how we should behave online.
1. You should not defend someone from opposing views and challenging questions – especially not with insults.
First of all, I do not know why those people felt the need to jump to her aid. I never insulted her. Yes, I was challenging her views and disputing her logic based on wrong information, but I kept the conversation civil. And honestly, I think that she is capable to handle a conflicting conversation on her own, so there’s no need to speak in her name. Also, I do not know why they felt the need to be mean and disrespectful to me.
What I think: I know that I have few followers and you are probably not as loyal to me as they are to her (that’s a good thing). But if this will happen to me, if someone will challenge my information or my perspectives, and you decide to jump in, please always be respectful. I would never want you to insult someone else on my account.
2. Do not continue to believe in what your community believes in when they are wrong.
Secondly, I noticed that all the people who joined the conversation seemed to think the same way (she can travel however she wants, I should shut up and people can do whatever they want). Like a pack, they just defended her, even if they misunderstood what I said or she was wrong. There was just one exception – one person who did understand my message and this restored a bit of my faith in humanity.
What I think: as much as I like to be surrounded by people who think as I do, I do not want to close myself in an echo-chamber. I want people like you to ask questions, challenge my views and voice your opinions even when they are different and insightful. If I am wrong, please tell me that I am wrong (and prove it). I hope you never feel the need to stay loyal to me or anyone else so much that you cannot see the truth or have a different opinion.
3. If you don’t know the facts or the truth about something, be humble enough to admit your ignorance.
Thirdly, the people who replied to my comments were wrong. They were either not educated enough about climate change and pollution or wanted to ignore facts. Even worse, some ignored the information I shared and just picked on me personally. What started as a discussion about personal views and facts regarding pollution, climate change and sustainability turned into a pathetic attempt to defend someone from facts and a different perspective with insults and nasty comments.
What I think: We should be more humble and responsible. If someone challenges you in real life or online, have the humility to admit that you could be wrong. Be willing to listen when people can provide facts, insights or logical arguments. Had anyone proven me wrong with facts or logic, I would have listened. I care more about finding the truth than I care about being right. And I hope you do the same.
4. Don’t be an asshole and do not insult others.
Also, keep in mind that social media is designed in a way that easily turns us into assholes. Try to resist that temptation. Do not insult people. You do not know them and one comment or 20 reveals little about who they are. Defend yourself, be frank, but also be respectful.
What I think: Two adults can have a conversation about something they disagree on without being mean and insulting each other. Or at least, I want to think that they can. If someone insults you, try to resist the temptation to insult them back. You would only step down to their level. Try to be respectful, but also frank and stand up for yourself. Remind them that an adult can have a conversation without turning into an angry child.
5. Influencers have to be responsible with what they show and promote on social media. If they are not, you should challenge them and ask them to step up.
One other thing that I mentioned is that influencers have power and access to many people. Therefore, they need to be responsible about the things they promote online. I think that they need to promote behaviours that are good for us as individuals, our communities and our environment. Flying a lot and recklessly, and encouraging thousands of people to do the same, is not something we should promote (for many reasons which I will talk about in the future).
What I think: There are influencers who are responsible and promote good things. But most influencers don’t. Many people simply promote what they like, what makes them feel good about themselves or what makes them money. Since they forget that they have a responsibility to us, the public and the people that follow them, we need to do something. We need to remind them that some of the things they do and promote are not desirable. Also, we need to remind them when what they do contradicts what they claim to do or believe in. Just as we need to protest when politicians implement measures that harm society, we also need to protest when social media influencers act in a way and promote behaviours that are irresponsible and harmful to people or the planet.
6. Try not to lose faith in humanity.
Lastly, this interaction made me lose a bit of my faith in humanity. Seeing how many people were willing to stand by a person who is disregarding facts made me sad. Seeing that someone who flies thousands of kms in a year can lie to herself that she is not destroying the planet is inconceivable for me. Seeing that people feel that I or we do not have the right to ask influencers to be responsible and promote good behaviours is quite depressing. I don’t know why so many people choose to be indifferent, uneducated or irresponsible.
What I think: I understand that as much as I want to, I cannot change the entire world. All I can do is raise my voice when I think I should. All I can do is do my best to learn the truth about the things that matter and share them with the people that are willing to listen. In my case, those people are you. Stand up for what you believe in and have faith that some people will hear you.
I know that this article may seem a bit random and out of the blue. But it is not because it relates to many of the things I value: responsibility, the effects of technology and how we can be better people.
Also, keep in mind that I have told you about things from my own perspective. Even if I did try to be objective, I may have unconsciously been biased while writing this article.
I’ll be honest – I got frustrated because of the way people reacted to my comments. It made me feel sad how many people are unaware about something, yet still feel justified to defend behaviours that we should not encourage. But I took my time to reflect on this situation and write and re-write what I wanted to say. I did not want to write an angry article just to vent, but to use this opportunity to share an important message.
As it happened, the next day I read a chapter from 21 Lessons for 21st Century on ignorance. That chapter came just at the right time. In it, Harari answered many of the questions that were going through my mind because of this event. I kept thinking: “Why don’t people just accept truth and facts?” or “Why don’t they realize that you can admire someone, but at the same time ask them to be more responsible?”. And I got my answers from Harari’s book. It turns out that you cannot change people’s minds with facts, often because they are surrounded by people who join in on their ignorance. And people may think that their group loyalty is more important than finding the truth or making changes. This quote really resonated with me:
“People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”
Yuval Noah Harari
This quote reminded me of what I stand for: truth – even when people disagree with me or are mean to me just because we disagree. I want to encourage you to fight your own ignorance, to have the courage to admit you do not know everything and to always search for facts and truth. Also, when the time comes, I hope you will have the courage to follow truth and to stay true to your values instead of compromising them just to be part of a group.