If you’ve been on the Internet for more than five minutes, you’ve probably encountered hostility from some anonymous user bent on making your life miserable. But dealing with online aggression isn’t only a personal problem. As businesses increasingly rely on social media, it’s important for us as representatives of our companies to maintain our composure online.
Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle addressed the Internet’s contentious culture at a presentation at Georgetown University this month, advocating for respectful online discussion.
Online attacks can lead to real-world damage, including depression and violence, Weckerle said, referencing a recent study showing the brain doesn’t necessarily distinguish between emotional and physical pain.
To prevent online arguments from escalating, it’s important to cool off before responding to comments, she said. Discussion participants should manage their emotions, debate issues rather than attacking one another and pick their battles, she said.
While Wales and Weckerle’s presentation focused on individuals, Weckerle said during a question-and-answer session that businesses face some of the same challenges in trying to foster civil online discussion. Businesses have tried a few strategies, including responding to every criticism, or none at all. Neither extreme is correct. It’s important for businesses to tailor their response to the situation, she said.
Wikipedia tries to foster positive discussion through its community policy, which states that the goal of the encyclopedia is quality and encourages users to assume other editors are trying to help the site, even if their actions do not at first appear that way, Wales said.