Photo by Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr Creative Commons — http://www.flickr.com/photos/wiertz/5584753106

On the Internet, You Never Know Who’s Reading

The post’s headline caught my eye: “8 Headlines That Sound Like Upworthy, But Are Simply Attempts To Express My Withering Contempt For That Collective of Neo-Liberal Douchebags”.

A friend had posted it on Facebook and I couldn’t help but click through. The headlines were great. My personal favorite: “This Guy Seems Super Annoying. Then He Gets Even More Annoying. Then You Start To Think He’s Really Awesome. Then You Realize That Your First Assessment Of Him Was Correct. What Happens At 1:49 Will… OK. The Guy Poops His Pants. Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You”.

I laughed. I shared it. I went on with my life.

A couple friends responded with snarky notes about Upworthy. I chuckled. I find myself on Upworthy a bit more than I’d like, mainly because I’ve never been a fan of sites that give you little to no reason to click through to the originating source.

One friend, Jesse Gold, commented, “I want to punch Adam Mordecai in the face and take his lunch money. There, I said it.”

I will admit, I had to Google who Adam Mordecai was. (He’s Upworthy’s Editor-At-Large.)

A day later, whammo. Adam Mordecai started responding to comments, including Jesse’s.

“I didn’t realize my words were that powerful in their power to annoy. What’s your beef?”

My heart sank. I had found humor in most of what folks had said about Upworthy. I had let Jesse’s comment stand on my profile. Where would things go from here?

Turns out, Adam and I had three mutual friends, not “friends” — two of whom I knew in real life, even.One had seen the conversation and suggested Adam pipe up.

Jesse responded a while later:

lol how awkward. The Internet’s veil of anonymity comes down and slaps me in the face. No offense, Adam. Really. I was just being glib. It just seems like you’re behind every other Upworthy article I’m linked to and there’s this smug look of liberal superiority about your profile picture… Anyway, I am a liberal myself! We agree on lots of things. I like videos where bigots and warmongers get theirs too. I just think reveling in it is poor form, and the overly celebratory nature of certain Upworthy articles make me feel a little embarrassed to hold the same opinion. Not as embarrassed as I feel at this moment though…

Believe it or not, things got better from there.

We had a wholesale conversation on my thread about Upworthy and what it was. What it hoped to be.

Friends started chiming in with questions, comments and flat-out compliments about how the conversation had turned.

The thing is, we forget sometimes that when there’s a website we don’t like, for whatever reason, that there are people behind it. People who are proud of their work, and who work hard.

We can be rather glib (to steal Jesse’s phrasing) about our feelings and toss off insults without really thinking about what — or who — we might be insulting.

Alternately, when people insult us, we also tend to take things way too personally and lash out. Or, potentially, ignore it completely. We don’t want to “feed the trolls,” after all.

Look, I spent 20 years in newspaper newsrooms as a clerk, a reporter and an editor. I’ve been insulted by the best (and worst) of them. I’ve been accused of being anti-black, anti-white, anti-Hispanic, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-male, anti-woman, anti-American and probably anti-everything else in the world. I can’t remember all the things I’ve been accused of.

But when someone was in the middle of yelling at me about how biased an article was, or how we didn’t cover a story because obviously we didn’t care, I’d ask them if they wanted me to answer.

“Do you want an answer or do you just want to yell at someone?” I’d ask. “Because if you just want to yell, that’s fine. I can sit here and I won’t bother trying to answer. I just want to know so I don’t keep trying to interrupt you.”

Once in a while, the people would just hang up on me then, and I’d go about my business. More often than not, however, they’d stop in their tracks and become noticeably calmer. Of course they wanted an answer, they’d say, sometimes even apologizing for not giving me a chance to speak.

By the end of the call, we’d often part friends. Even if they didn’t agree, they appreciated that someone had listened and treated them like a person. And I appreciated that they weren’t yelling at or insulting me anymore.

That’s what Adam Mordecai did the other day. Instead of taking umbrage at what someone on the Internet said, he piped up and asked what was wrong.

The result was a respectful conversation. Adam agreed with a few complaints that folks had about Upworthy (myself included — hate those popups!) and discussed the mission of the site and gave props to his staff. Those who’d had been negative started talking to Adam instead of at or about him.

At the end of the day, we all felt good about the exchange. Other friends of mine saw it and told other people, and they started chiming in, patting Adam — and Jesse — on the back for being class acts.

We talk a lot about the ugly on the Internet. We just need to remember there are people behind everything. And just frakkin’ talk to each other like human beings.

Who knows, maybe the resulting conversation will leave you feeling better about the world.

Kinda like one of those Upworthy posts.