I am on the cusp of turning 40. And when you stand where I am, you can’t help but reflect on your life, count your accomplishments and ponder whether you’re where you thought you’d end up. It’s natural, and it’s also natural to look back at the world in which you grew up—mine was characterized by glam rock and oversized Fergie bows—and compare it to the world we live in today.  And then, of course, you realize how much things have changed, and how scary that is and how wonderful it is at the same time.

Somewhere along the line in my 39.9 years, I landed up smack dab in the middle of the liberal left. Blame it on my upbringing in politically conservative Nebraska, or my extended experience in academia getting a grad degree, or my years of clawing my way through the Hollywood film industry, or my day-to-day living in Los Angeles, one of the most beautifully diverse cities on the planet, but it’s where I am. Okay, let’s pause a moment. I realize that admitting my tendency toward liberalism, I may have lost a few readers. One of the things that seems to have changed since the Reagan and Clinton administrations of my youth, is that as soon as you announce your political views, the other side tunes you out. But stick with me, my conservative friends, I’m about to move into bipartisan territory.

A second cousin of mine posted an article on Facebook last week by a woman who wanted to encourage people to send their children to public school even if they could afford private, to renew a general interest in our decaying public education. The premise was an intriguing one. The way she conveyed it, however, by stating no facts at all and resorting to calling people who opt for private school over public “morally bankrupt” wasn’t just off-putting, it was insulting. Her anger and frustration clouded her ability to communicate effectively and the result was exactly what you would expect:  a strong backlash of people responding negatively. As a writer myself, I was surprised by her tactics. The English language gives us infinite choices in how to convey a thought, and she chose words that actually turned people against her position. Interesting, but not particularly effective.

One of the friends of my second cousin read the article and posted on my cousin’s page ‘Just another liberal trying to tell other people how to raise their children.’ I’m sure she was reacting to the poor communication style of the author and the unnecessary derogatory accusations aimed at anyone who has gone to private school or sent their little minions there, but ironically, she was doing the exact same thing the author had done. She decided to post on a public forum an unfounded, unsupported remark aimed to not just lump a group of people together, but to insult them as well. And that actually brings me to the crux of this post.

When did it become acceptable to insult individuals or groups of people online?

There are many ways to justify it and I’ve heard them all. They liberals/conservatives do the same thing. It’s my [Facebook] wall, I can say whatever I want on it. If someone’s going to post something online, they’re putting themselves out there for people to criticize. These are nothing more than attempts to justify bad behavior.

For those that want to spout off opinions and insults and even racist/sexist/offensive remarks, the internet is a place to thrive. The anonymity of the internet allows people to hide behind their keyboards and say things most wouldn’t have the audacity to say in person.  Online, there are no people, no other human beings with feelings and problems and ideas. There is no shared universal human experience. There is just you, sitting alone, watching videos and reading blogs, and all the characteristics of real human interaction are gone.  Human beings are designed to connect with each other through touch, expression, laughter, proximity, and spontaneous reaction. None of that exists on the net.  While the internet has successfully brought us together, it has stripped away the elements that help us to empathize and understand each other.

The author of the article was no dummy. She was clearly an educated person with her own altruistic ideas about how to make the country a better place for everyone. And yet she chose to post an article that she knew would be offensive to a significant number of people. Perhaps she thought the shock value of her insults would get the online community talking, and perhaps she felt some type of attention and reaction was better than nothing. I respectfully disagree.

My cousin’s friend that posted the remark about liberals also chose to state her opinion without an ounce of care about those she was offending. She could have just as easily written ‘Just another person trying to tell other people how to raise their children.’ But she didn’t. She chose the word ‘liberal’ instead of person, thereby lumping liberals into a group and assigning them a negative attribute.

I’m not here to argue semantics. We are all smart enough and familiar enough with the English language to know how our words will most likely be received. The problem here, is that, online, we don’t seem to care. That anonymity allows us to be nasty, rude, offensive, and hypercritical whenever we want. And the ramifications? None. We simply turn off our computers and mobile devices and walk away, unfriend or block people on Facebook, and carry on with our day as if we didn’t just throw some negative thought out into the universe or hurt someone else’s feelings.

Ultimately, we need to turn the light back onto ourselves and examine whether what we are doing, online and off, fits with the type of person we want to be.  Are you the type of person that generalizes and groups people together based on their political views, gender, race, economics, or religion?  If you are, is that who you want to be? Or are you a person that sees value in sending positive energy out into the world? Do you make an effort to help others feel included and valued? If that’s who you want to be, then be that person. Weave your integrity so tightly within your character that it doesn’t matter whether you’re posting comments on a social media page, chatting at a party, speaking to colleagues, or meeting someone for the first time on a blind date. Be consistent. Be mindful. Consider the impact of your words before they come out of your mouth or fly off of your fingertips. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the internet is a place where “anything goes.” It’s not. What you put out there links back to you as a person, and reflects your integrity, or lack of.

Don’t wait for a landmark birthday to self-reflect and examine whether your behavior aligns with your morality.  Do it today. Let your next post on twitter or Facebook or Fox News or Huffington Post add something positive to world. The world thanks you.


*Christine Conradt is a screenwriter/t.v. writer with more than 40 produced credits. She holds a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California and a Masters in Criminal Justice from Boston University.  You can follow her on twitter at @CConradt and Facebook at Facebook/ScreenwriterChristineConradt.


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