Craft For The Soul Pip-Life

The Grey Area: The One About Social Media And Negativity

September 8, 2017

I was chatting with a few good people about the increasingly nasty exchanges taking place in social media comments, and it made me think again about Jon Ronson and his genius ways. And then I wanted to write a bit more about the whole shemozzle. So here I go. Again.

Jon Ronson wrote the book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and he has so many great things to say about how we treat each other on social media. John’s book is about cases of global shaming. Shaming on a very large scale. People who have been called out by millions for racism or other prejudices, for instance.

Jon also talks about the grey areas most humans naturally inhabit, and this idea of ‘grey areas’ interests me a LOT.


He quite rightly points out that we’re less and less keen to allow others to live in this grey space. Instead, many of us want things to seem simpler, to be much more conveniently  clear-cut. We want humans to be good or evil – and its become a kind of sport to point at people when they divert from the hero path – and call them out for the monsters they surely must be.

When you look at who’s trending on a given day, you can pretty much rest assured that somebody’s trending either because they’re the most awesome hero ever or they’re the worst monster ever. In a weird way, I think these are two sides of the same coin. Because actual human beings are somewhere in the boring gray area between awesome and terrible. That gray area is where all the most interesting stuff happens, the most interesting nuances and so on, and nobody seems to be occupying that gray area anymore. – Jon Ronson

I love Jon’s work and I’m interested to see how this all works, scaled-down.

I’m interested in looking more closely at negativity and micro shaming on the socials: dressing-downs, dismissals and open hostility, dealt out on a small but relentless scale – and how that might be impacting our lives –  and making us sad or less sparkly.

I’m quite certain that this behaviour takes a toll, shakes our hopeful faith and chips away at our optimism. I’m also sure that this hostility and negativity triggers anxiety and depression in many. And I’m certain it silences many good people who have ace things to say.

I’m keen to think more about how and why this ever-increasing negative way of communicating might be gaining even more favour. And what it looks like, too.

Firstly, here’s some of the kinds of snark I’ve encountered most frequently and some ponderings on what sparks this kind of thing:

  1. Fear of intimacy snark: Holding people at arm’s length and looking for signs that they are NOT like us because WHO EVEN wants to be let down by people we wanted to love?! Sometimes it might seem easier to just be a bit snotty at people and not let them into our hearts? In case they are not perfect?
  2. ‘Buyer beware’ fuelled snark: This snark is whipped out very often and applied liberally – often in the wrong places with the wrong people – to avoid being taken for a fool by someone inauthentic or snake-oil-sales-y.
  3. Can’t be arsed snark: Displaying pessimism or negativity because it seems easier than changing our minds or being open and learning from/about others.
  4. Sporty snark: This kind of snark is fuelled by the rush of upsetting others or at least impacting their day/having them notice you. Weird, but true.
  5. Virtue or value flaunting snark: Social media is rife with people who will let you know that your activism or politics is just NOT measuring up. They will police your views and tone and tell you where you’re going wrong in a heartbeat, with a smug full stop and ‘POST’, thank you very much. This snark is oppressive and counter-productive and simply not the way forward.

Secondly, here are some of the confusing approaches you might have spotted in some of  your trickier dealings with the other humans online.

  1. All or nothing comments: The brevity of social media fosters short, snappy exchanges and encourages us to process ideas or information quickly and decisively. More and more, exchanges don’t allow for deeper thinking or diverse experiences. They certainly don’t allow for the kind of complex contradictions every human character embodies.
  2. Soapbox superstars: While social media is touted as a conversation, it’s often just people saying or shouting their view into a very noisy abyss and hoping to be validated / elevated / given cookies / applauded by others.
  3. Lost perspective: The need to be right or be noticed is paramount, with saying your piece often prioritised above all, regardless of its impact on others in the exchange and often regardless of the subject matter or whether their feelings are bursting someone else’s bubble.
  4. Diversion over connection: This phenomenon occurs when someone wants to dismiss you, without understanding you. So they’ll say things like – ‘I can’t believe you’re talking about discrimination when families are being murdered in [insert location here]. You’re so deluded!’ The shouting of the phrase ‘first world problems’ may indicate this approach too.
  5. Lack of humanity:  Could this be THE problem? I think it is. The right to speak freely has trumped (!) thoughtfulness and kindness. No more do people think – ‘Do I need to say this? Am I just bored and about to make someone anxious or upset for no good reason?’ – instead they limber up their fingers and get typing because OPINIONS GUYS. NO OFFENCE.

(And also… how about this one? The fraught situation where you defend yourself against someone’s negativity, and the pile-on switches directions and everyone comes to your aid and gets angry at the naysayer. So suddenly they are the sad target. Which is bad too! Argh!)

So what to do about this? How do we make things a bit better? I said this in my previous post and I will say it again here, now:

It’s good to slow down and adjust our approach Facebook/social media commentary and responses. Consideration, context, compassion, connection – then comment.

Don’t let online negativity silence you, instead model the kind of internet behaviour you would most like to see and know that others are learning (and making mistakes) too. I’m hoping this means putting yourself in others’ shoes, considering their motivation, responding thoughtfully and pushing for the most understanding and positive outcome possible.

Also – if someone’s being a total dick to you on social media, try not to hate on them too much. There’s often so much more to the story and considering their potentially tricky life circumstances – as they make your life trickier – can be a kind/good thing to do. (Although… very hard!)

Give your wounded self a bit of a cuddle and cake moment/day too, of course.

And remember, it’s okay to stray to the grey. It happens! Not being a complete hero doesn’t mean you’re an utter monster, ya know?

x Pip

NB: Mermaids mages are unrelated, but awesome!

Want to learn and talk more about healthier, happier social media use? I’ve written an eCourse to help us Get ToGether online, with much less freaky fuss! Let’s do it together and make some better (loose) rules for engagement online! You’ll learn some ace habits AND make some new non-snarky friends in the Facebook group attached to the course.

PS: I’m testing a new online store – so hopefully it won’t play up! If it does, let me know.


  • Reply Carly September 16, 2017 at 3:38 AM

    Thanks for this pip. I’m often saddened by the endless vitriol in the comments section on blogs and online newspapers. It really erodes my faith in people and the direction our communities and societies are going in. This is such an important conversation to be having especially as social media and the online world infiltrate every corner is our lives. I’ve got two fabulous little girls to guide through all this in the next 5-10 years and it truly terrifies me what they will face on the online world.

  • Reply Cheryl September 12, 2017 at 6:18 AM

    I appreciate your thoughtfulness. We need more of it. And I think Mermaids fits in—shouldn’t we try to be a little more “who we really are” rather than hiding behind that version of “who other people think we should be”?

  • Reply Lucy September 9, 2017 at 10:06 PM

    Really good article. Hope your new group goes well, as a point of principle I am not on social media beyond reading and very rarely responding to blogs.
    I’ll pop by now and then as I like your style.
    Lucy ~ Kent, England (a sadder place than it once was)

  • Reply Aleta Barker September 9, 2017 at 8:05 PM

    We need more people like you in the world, Pip. I will make sure I read this post to my kids – compassion and patience are important if we ever truly want to solve problems with this world.

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