How Not To Be An Asshole On The Internet When Everyone's Upset

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This has been one of the most depressing weeks of news I can remember. Mike Brown. The fallout in Ferguson. #Iftheygunnedmedown and every other reminder that, as Deadspin's Greg Howard put it, America is Not For Black People. The news of Robin Williams' death. Learning that he committed suicide. The dozens of powerful, heartbreaking stories about battling with depression and/or suicide, including those penned by friends.


But, although "social media" often gets spoken about like a singular boogieman, a digital phantasm haunting our monitors and ruling our lives, it's times like these when you really see the benefit of being able to share so many ideas and opinions and so much damn information. While cynics will doubt this, I have no doubt that oft-maligned "hashtag activism" matters. It makes a difference. I'm not sure exactly what difference it's making, but it's not a bad thing if a medium or act leads to more engagement in and awareness of an important cause.

That said, when you have low barriers to entry — and people pandering to low-information readers — you also end up with people doing things like using the Mike Brown murder to ask why "no one cares about Black on White crime" or using Robin Williams' death as an opportunity to tweet about their lack of sympathy for those who commit suicide or just being a "..well, actually…" shitbag when their irreverence is neither as necessary nor as clever as they think it is.

To avoid being one of those people — and to fix yourself if you are — here's a simple guide on what not to do when you're on the internet and everyone is upset about something.

1. Don't use this as an opportunity to lob completely irrelevant criticisms at the recently deceased

No one cared that you thought Robin Williams was an overrated hack last week, so why use his death as an opportunity to share a thought no one gives a damn about right now. Because you want to annoy, that's why. And you're a shitbag.

2. Don't use this as an opportunity to speak more about your preconceived and tangentially-related agenda


And yes, this means when a conversation about street harassment is brewing, don't try to flip it with your awkward segue about how "this crack down on street harassment is really just a White supremacist/Negro bed wench ploy to get more Black men in prison." (Actual people have actually said this, btw)

3. Don't post graphic pictures of the recently deceased

This doesn't apply as much to the Mike Brown murder — where the picture of him laying in the street for hours is a vital part of the furor over his death. Instead, I'm talking more about what happened the week after Paul Walker's fatal accident, where images of his lifeless body found their way across my Facebook newsfeed. I get that some of you are morbid motherfuckers. But really, what do you get out of sharing an image like that? What benefit does it bring you, besides reminding everyone you're a morbid motherfucker?


4. Don't ask stupid-ass questions

And yes, "Why do people care this much about Mike Brown when there are people dying every day in Nigeria?" is a stupid-ass question.


5. Don't talk about how much you don't care about whatever it is that everyone is upset about

If you don't care that damn much, don't say anything. Why? Because making the effort to publicly say something — even if the something is you saying "I don't care" — proves that you care.


6. Just..don't be an asshole

I know this is hard for many people, especially those whose social relevance and currency is tied to them being a predictable internet shitbag. But, if the entire internet is upset about something, and you feel like being your typical self is inevitable, take your weekly shower, brush your shitbag teeth, get dressed, and go for a nice 96-hour-long run. By the time you get back, maybe the feelings won't still be as raw, and you can go back to being a predictable internet shitbag in peace.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Someone I know wrote a coded objection to the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown "fad," asking why would people post pics of themselves with middle fingers and sagging pants. HE only has pics up of himself volunteering, in his military uniform, or with his family. Cause the best legacy HE is leaving his family is a clean background where they won't find any pictures.

All I could do was sigh.