Cleaning up the Internet

Every sexist, racist and immature comment is pollution in an environment that reaches so many.

Quynh Nguyen

My biggest pet peeve with the Internet is the sheer amount of clutter I run into. And no, I am not talking about ads, spam, pop-up windows or slow-loading WebVista pages.

The worst clutter on the Internet is the kind generated by irate users who fill forums and comments with sexist, racist or homophobic junk. If I was paid a penny for every “I’d hit it,” “that’s so ghey” or “illegal immigrants should go back to where they came from” comment ever posted on the Internet, I would be richer than Warren Buffet.

The obvious thing to do is to ignore that clutter. To pick a fight with every idiotic comment ever encountered on the Internet would be like attacking windmills with a lance and donkey.

After a while though, it gets bothersome that so much space has been dominated by young angry people who have no more to offer, conversation-wise, than “STFU NOOB!”. Simply ignoring it does nothing to eliminate those comments.

I do not ask for much. I ask for some space, some friendly space. Do they really need to fill every crack and crevice of the Internet with sexist, racist or bigoted comments?

To see what I mean by friendly space, check out the “miscellaneous” section of the forums on Sewing.Patternreview.com. Most of the users of that site are mothers of all walks of life and professions. Nearly all forums on the Internet are filled with all sorts of trollfoolery, harassment and derision. And yet, on these Sewing.Patternreview.com forums, one can ask for advice on the most vulnerable topics and receive comments laden with mercy.

I am not advocating for a Pollyanna-esque Internet where we pat each other on the back and lift each other up (though many would find that environment much more useful). It just seems that the Internet is a savage place to rip each other apart and tear each other down.

The Internet does not have to be this way. It does not have to be a place of constant criticism, of hate, of meanness magnified through the lens of a faceless medium.

As a nursing student I am a believer of Florence Nightingale’s theories on the role of environment on a person’s well-being. Every sexist, racist, bigoted and immature comment on the Internet is pollution in an environment that reaches so many.

Like pollution in the real world, everyone can take measures to help reduce and eliminate it. The most important step is to recognize the effects of pollution on an environment, and to stop pollution when it happens.

There are times when I have censored myself from replying to an inflammatory comment with a snarky and sarcastic response, preferring to nail the weak points of said argument. Rather than responding to pollution with more pollution, treating it with maturity allowed me to see some progress.

The primary polluters are probably the least affected by the pollution they spew. That is, until they realize that their chronic singlehood is the result of not knowing how to interact in a social environment.

The Internet can be an amazing place to learn, explore and discover new things. Keeping it clear of pollution is a responsibility all Internet users share.

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]