Over the past week I’ve been reminded again how brazen people can be when it comes to what they say online. I notice it each time I browse the comments sections on blogs, readers’ feedback on research journals, or news article discussions. It gets even more personal and destructive when it comes to places like Facebook, Twitter, email, chat, and text messages.

People type and post things on the Internet that they would probably never say in-person. I’ve been there, done that, and yes, I’ve been ashamed of what I’ve written. It’s almost like not being face-to-face gives us the lie that we can post things that verbal discretion would otherwise curb or censor altogether. It takes guts and yes, sometimes an even deadlier dose of stupidity to say certain things in-person.

It’s even easier to post something incredibly destructive online if we think we’re somehow hiding behind an obscure username and made-up ID. Whether anyone can even tell your comments are truly coming from you, do you really want to be a jerk online? Do you want to be spewing pride and bitterness and even hatred to people with just a few key strokes? Would you ever do that to them face-to-face, especially if you’ve never even met them?

These seven thoughts have saved me from posting potentially damaging comments in the past…

  1. If you have to think twice about whether you should post what you’ve written, don’t submit it. Think about it some more.
  2. If there’s no purpose in what you’re about to post, don’t submit it.
  3. If you honestly wouldn’t say it to that same person face-to-face, don’t submit it. Ask that person if you can talk to them in-person if you really feel like you need to share what you have to say.
  4. If you’re hiding behind the excuse of “well, it’s the truth!” then don’t submit it. If it’s really that true, a hate-filled post is probably the last thing that should be used to wrap a truthful message.
  5. If you submit this message now, will you regret it later?
  6. Does this message accurately reflect the person you want to be?
  7. If you’re posting under a different username, would you be ashamed if someone found out it was actually from you?

It may seem harmless. You may feel like you’re safe behind a misleading username. What you can’t hide is the fact that these messages of destruction can be easily typed without a second thought and yet they can cause so much pain that we may never realize. Before you hit submit, think about the weight your words can carry, even if it’s “only online.”