How to not be a jerk on the Internet

I've been a technology blogger for more than six years—four of them right here at PC World. And in that time I've developed a pretty thick skin.

I've had to, because I'm often on the receiving end of incredibly mean, nasty, and insulting emails and post comments.

This is nothing new. The Internet seems to bring out the worst in some people. It's as though the relative anonymity of an emailed or posted message gives license to say hateful things that most folks would never say face-to-face.

For example, if you spot a mistake in, say, a blog post, do you leap to your keyboard to point out what an idiot the writer must be?

When someone voices an opinion that's different from your own—like, say, a dislike of Windows 8—do you take it personally? Do you get so angry about it that you feel compelled to write a nasty email or comment?

Are you so suspicious of technology-news organizations that you routinely accuse them of favoritism or bias? Do you believe that journalists like me get paid by various companies to cover their products?

Hey, we're all human. I understand the need to vent, and it's really easy to pour out your frustrations at the keyboard. I've done it myself, and still do—but one thing has changed in recent years: 99 percent of the time, I'll type my gripe and then delete it.

Know why? Because I remember there's another human being at the other end, someone who works hard and tries to get it right and probably didn't mean to offend anyone. Someone who doesn't need to called a jerk, a liar, an idiot, a shill, or a con artist.

I can already sense some of the comments this very post will generate. "Guess you don't have such a thick skin after all!" "You should be fired for wasting my time with stuff that's not relevant to PCs." And so on.

But let me ask this: Think before you type. Ask yourself if you're contributing anything to the conversation, or just being mean-spirited. Ask yourself how you'd feel being on the receiving end of your message. Ask yourself if something as simple as an innocent mistake or an opinion you don't like warrants the vitriol you're about to unleash.

Does that mean you should never comment? Of course not! If I make a mistake (it's been known to happen—I'm probably making one right now), by all means let me know. If you have a different opinion about my topic, I absolutely want to hear it. I suspect most other writers feel the same way.

But be civil about it. Pretend it's a face-to-face conversation. Be the otherwise respectful person you are. And give the benefit of the doubt.

Thanks for listening.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community ForumsSign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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