Online Respect

A post from Bruce Flowers, IT professional and Get Safe Online Ambassador in Belize, for Get Safe Online Week

Engaging in a discussion about online respect can be a sensitive topic, depending on which side you are. However, the goal is to be able to carry out a discussion in a safe, respectful environment. 

The meaning of respect does not change whether it is done in person or online. The platform where someone chooses to communicate does not make “respecting” someone or something less important and less impactful. Looking at the dictionary meaning of respect, it speaks about having consideration or taking into consideration someone’s feelings, opinions or rights; avoiding harming or interfering with someone or something, and agreeing and abiding to requirements or rules.

The Need for Online Respect

The need for respect is common. Being respected by others gives us a sense of identity. It lets us know that we matter – our feelings, opinions, ideas, experience, expertise, etc. Therefore, this need is not lessened if we communicate online. It is normal to seek respect regardless of the form of communication we use.

With the onset of online use, a greater percentage of individuals feel more comfortable sharing opinions, views, feelings online. Through the internet, our audience is of a bigger scale. That means, our reach is more diverse in race, social status, religion, education, even culture.

I have quite an active social media presence. But a very small percentage of what I share online is personal, which is my choice. In the same way, what others choose to share online is their choice.

I have personally been the victim of disrespect online. The initial response is offense and confusion, wondering why someone would respond disrespectfully, if what I posted was not meant to disrespect anyone. In the first instance, I just shrugged and let it slide. At the time, I didn’t give it much importance. However, it happened again, again, and again. Instead of reacting to the negative response I got from the same individual, I stopped to think why he was being mean. Furthermore, was he trying to be mean, or was he attempting to be funny? I was not about to return the disrespect online. After all, he is able to express himself freely online as well. I chose to respect him by not reacting to his comments. As I had said, we will read opposing opinions, we will see things we dislike on social media, and we will learn about new things every day. We can either choose to respond respectfully or not respond at all. Both transmit respect online.

Earning Online Respect

But how do we go about earning other people’s respect? My answer is the cliche saying that goes “Give respect to earn respect.” And giving respect starts with one’s self. It is important to recognize, acknowledge and respect ourselves. Is our online presence emanating self-respect? Are the opinions we post online open-minded, and the discussions inoffensive? Are we responding to others kindly or are we bullying? Many people interpret an opposing opinion as criticism and can respond aggressively. This can quickly turn from a peaceful exchange of opinions into an exchange of insults. How do we respond to situations like these? We need to be conscious of what we communicate, especially since our audience is very diverse. Adversely, a healthy dose of self respect can be very helpful when dealing with disrespect online. It gives us the courage to not take it personally and not engage in unnecessary conflict.

Keeping cybersecurity in mind, some individuals hide behind fake accounts looking for a platform to incite disrespect, and even violence. When facing disrespect, we should first ask who it’s coming from.

I truly believe that the gravest form of online disrespect is cyberbullying, so much so that laws must be put in place to fight against it. Addressing others in a threatening way is no longer just disrespectful but also dangerous. The invasion of someone’s privacy can be harmful. Unfortunately, this brings into mind, how much is too much to share? This applies to our own privacy and the privacy of our family and friends. We can determine what we share and communicate. But, when sharing about others, we must first consider how they feel about sharing stuff online. Are they OK with posting pictures of them? Are they OK sharing family situations online? This brings back the meaning of respect – being considerate of others.

Celebrate our differences

The internet gave us a platform to make our voices be heard, and to make them louder. But just as it gave us that opportunity, it made us more vulnerable to the harsh world we live in. Instead of trashing each other, we should learn to celebrate our differences. The online experience has allowed us to travel from the comfort of our homes, to experience different cultures, to understand why we speak and live differently. But more importantly, it has also given us the chance to connect with others. We have met individuals with similar interests, skills, and life situations. You and I have met people we can share stories with and build a strong connection. And this is what we should strive for when communicating online. The foundation to building strong connections is by respecting others, and offering a safe place for us to coexist online. Because the internet is not going anywhere anytime soon.

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