Online communication: treat it with respect

in dlive •  5 months ago


I've been thinking more about the importance of dialogue and communication and the exchange of ideas.

I mentioned this on my vlog yesterday. And it's also because I was reading one of my favourite websites – This is a fantastic website for anyone interested in hillwalking and mountaineering in Scotland, because it gives you guides to almost all of the most popular hillwalks in Scotland, with maps, information on how to do the route, where the route is, how to find it – and it has so many readers who post their experiences of doing the walks.

The website also features posts from popular writers, experts in the subject. One of these is Cameron McNeish. He is well known in Scotland, a mountaineer, writer, blogger who makes frequent appearances on TV.

Online aggression

Cameron McNeish
McNeish wrote recently on the subject of online aggression. He was specifically referring to a Facebook group where a man wrote a post and then received so much aggression that he left the group.

I have an idea which group this is. McNeish didn't mention it by name. I suspect it's one of the most popular groups focused on Scottish hillwalking on Facebook, which has almost 50,000 members. And I know that this kind of online aggression is a problem – not just with that group, but with many others.

And it's probably coming from only about 10 percent of the group members, or even less. McNeish said he'd always thought this was because on Twitter, for example, people can hide behind pseudonyms, or false names. But on Facebook, many of the people who are being aggressive have profile photos and are using their full name.

The type of thing I'm talking about is if, for example, someone posts saying,

"I'm new to hillwalking and I'm planning to do Ben Nevis in a few months' time, for charity – does anyone have any advice?"

...a respectful person might say:

"Ben Nevis is Scotland's highest mountain, and it's a very tough climb, so my advice would be to get out there and do as many different mountains as you can. Start small, try and learn to use a map and compass, make sure that you have someone with you... just enjoy yourself and I hope you enjoy your climb..."

That would be a nice sensible piece of advice. But sadly, there are many people who would say,

"You stupid idiot! What are you thinking of, climbing Ben Nevis when you've never climbed a mountain before? It's idiots like you who get the mountain rescue called out, costing taxpayers' money..."

They'll rant on in that manner. I don't know why – maybe it makes them feel superior. And as I say, it's probably a minority of people who react like that, but they're the ones who make all the noise.

Eye contact

I think it's partly because when you're online you don't have that important eye contact that you do when you're talking to someone face-to-face. There's something about a computer screen that puts a barrier between you and the person you're addressing, and it makes them appear as a piece of text, instead of a human being.

Most people, if they were talking to a person in reality – on a hillwalk, for example – wouldn't react like that (unless they are actually a psychopath).

Should we just stay offline?

That does not mean we should all stop online communication. Quite the opposite in fact. I think it's something we should practice. We need to get more skilled at communicating online.

I think Steemit is really blazing a trail here. I know people say that there's a lot of online aggression on Steemit. I've seen it, but I think it's a much more rare occurrence on Steemit than on other online platforms. This is partly because there's that financial incentive.

If someone comes onto Steemit as a newbie and they start being aggressive, they soon find that their reputation falls as a result. And that kind of polices it. It makes people think! It makes people become more considerate in their responses.

Yes, I have seen people flying off the handle on Steemit. But then they'll generally apologise.

Learn communication skills

I used to be a member of a public speaking group called Toastmasters, that really taught you how to communicate in a civil way, and how to think about what you're saying. I also used to do debating for a while, in debating societies. I only did a couple of debates – but again, that's talking in a considered and measured way.

I'm not saying I'm perfect! Sometimes I go in with all guns blazing. But generally, I think it's so important to learn to communicate properly.

Communication means progress

I think this has a wider importance. I'm interested in history, and when you look back at the development of civilised societies – which is something that changes over time – I think it tends to be the ones that have the most communication and interaction with other societies, that progress most in terms of learning.

Take Asia for example – not just Europe, but Asia as a whole. It's a continent that people have travelled over going back thousands of years, because although there are mountainous areas, in general, you can get around in Asia. So people have been able to communicate and exchange ideas.

But if you're on a tiny island and you've got thousands of miles of ocean separating you from other peoples, you don't get that opportunity to interact and exchange ideas. Although maybe you'll be able to interact with others if you develop seagoing craft, which the Pacific islanders did. So they were able to interact with other peoples within that massive ocean area, to some extent.

The same goes for diseases, because when the Europeans came, the islanders got diseases that they'd never come into contact with before, and sadly many died. So communication and exchange is so important. If there's a group of people surrounded by a big mountain range, or cut off by a desert, for example, they won't be able to interact, communicate and exchange ideas with other peoples as much as people who can and travel to other lands.

And now we've got the internet, so that allows us to communicate with all sorts of people and exchange ideas even more! It's putting everyone in the world in a position where they can communicate.

So whether you're trapped in the middle of a lot of mountains, or trapped within an urban society and you don't have enough money to get out, you can still get onto a computer in your local library, and you can get on it and exchange ideas, discuss, debate. I think that should be encouraged!

Fear of having your mind changed

The other thing that some people do, and I think this is an aspect of fear in communications... if there's an idea that they think is different from an idea that they hold, they'll run away! They'll just shut down; they won't answer. Because they're so scared of having their fixed ideas changed.

So I'd like to encourage everyone to get out there and communicate, debate – but do it in a measured way. Think before you get on your keyboard, engage with people and don't have that fear. Don't just switch off if someone has a different idea to yours!

My video is at DLive

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Real good advice for sure, and I think you are spot on about people fearing that their beliefs might be changed. That is something that most people aren't consciously aware of but it has to be in the back of their mind or there wouldn't be so much resistance to actually trying to civilly communicate be it online or in person.
Nice take on a subject that needs more attention.

I also got a chance to check out your Alex Jones piece from the other day. I agree with you on that as well, I don't necessarily believe what he says or how he goes about saying it but shutting him out from a public platform like twitter isn't right. I'll defend anyone's right to freedom of speech, otherwise it may be lost for everyone.


Thanks for your comments! I definitely used to suffer from that fear of having my core beliefs changed, but once I recognised that I was doing it, it was easier to change. Actually it was quite a relief! I probably still do it sometimes, but I try to look out for it.


I was like that as well, and the radio guy in Austin, Dale Dudley , helped me realize it, it is very liberating to come to recognize it and accept it.


Interesting! I'm not sure if I've heard of this radio guy.


You probably never have or would hear of him , he is just a local guy and more of a FM talk guy, he only lasted on the program for about 18 months, but it was enough that I learned a valuable lesson in that time.


Were you on the show yourself, or just listening to him? There was a podcast I used to listen to a few years ago, which I loved, and I think it had a similar effect. It would suddenly introduce ideas that went right against my "core beliefs". I railed against it at first, and then started to open my mind a bit more. The same thing happened with Twitter years ago. People I followed and admired were constantly sniping against Obama. At the time I thought he was doing a great job, and I thought - why are they trying to spoil things? He's trying his best! Eventually I started to click on their links, and I realised there was no two ways about it, children and innocent people were being killed in drone strikes. And I realised that I needed to stop shutting my eyes to it, just because it wasn't in the "script".


Just listening, I never call any talk shows, now I don't even listen anymore and enjoy that the best.

I am often misinterpreted because i cannot convey fully what I wanted to say to someone or to people. So it really is a good thing for every person to have a good communication skills so they would get understood.


You communicate very well online. It's sad that you're misinterpreted in face to face communication. There are many different ways to communicate, and people should try to be patient and understanding when someone has a physical impairment to their speech.

FOR TSE: I've long said there's not much good that will come from a conversation that begins, "You stupid idiot!!" -- or words to that effect.

In some ways I think this reveals the real person -- because there are no real consequences for behaving like this, so they can just "be themselves."

I have been called things online -- words I have never heard spoken aloud in real life ... in public ... by anonymous people who didn't know me and clearly didn't care to. So I just consider what it says about them -- and their dreadful lack of manners.

I certainly don't blame people who decide they don't want to hang around and subject themselves to that kind of treatment. But I'm also aware that this kind of behavior does more ultimate harm to the abuser than it does to the victim.

So if a person decides he needs a "safe place" where he can vent his aggression against total strangers who can't really fight back, maybe it's time for him to consider where his life went so far off the rails.

You make very valid points here -- especially in this era of incivility where no less a figure than the Orange Man in the White House is making it "acceptable" to behave like that. It is to no one's credit.


Thanks for your insightful comment. When I do get those types of aggressive comments online, I usually find that humour is the best response, as you can't take that kind of thing seriously. Or ultra-sweet politeness – that really confounds them! One thing I don't do is rise to the bait.
Don't get me started on politicians! "Politic" is related to polite... hmm...

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