Being Wrong on the Internet
First, some context. I forget how, but a GitHub project came across my Twitter stream. I clicked into it, immediately to see it was something that I disagreed with (on its intent). In turn, I posted something on Twitter. Nothing extremely offensive, but nothing nice. The exact contents of the tweet were:
Ever wanted to make sed or grep worse?
Realistically, what I was suggesting is “this is a bad idea”. Whatever I said could have been more clear, more friendly, etc. It wasn’t. We all know how Twitter works. What I said wasn’t nice, I won’t contest that, I also won’t defend it.
The Twitter Effect
One might argue that I should only criticize something if I’m willing to give positive (proper?) criticism. I can agree with that. Take a step back however, and look at the means of communication. I’m posting on my personal Twitter feed, a space confined to a single thought (or barely connected thoughts) fitting within 140 characters.
It is extremely difficult to convey thoughts on Twitter. That isn’t an “excuse” for anything you say. You should be conciuously aware of that. I usually am (though not always), and it sometimes makes its very hard to relay something. Even when I was asked why I said that, the best I did was “I dont understand why you would want this”. That’s not because I didn’t understand, but it’s simply my reaction to the fact that there’s no way I can realistically explain (or convince) someone of something given the constraints.
The reason I’m writing this post is not actually because I got mixed up into this conversation. What I’m actually frustrated about is that I saw responses like this:
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a strong undercurrent of misogyny involved here, motivating their incivility and rudeness.
Let’s get some more context in here. The GitHub URL I originally saw was:
I’m not entirely sure what drives someone to the conclusion that because “harthur”, which turns out to be be “Heather”, is a woman, that by default, I would intentionally discriminate against. Not every single thing on the internet is about gender equality, or about a minority. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this post is because this kind of continued behavior on the internet is one of the primary reasons this is such a problem.
I’m glad that some people see the insanity of Internet-drama when it happens, and more importantly aren’t sitting in a corner “being nice”, but are instead speaking their opinion, just like many of us (correctly or incorrectly) do every day. Whichever side of any debate you’re on, speaking your opinion is almost certainly better than sitting there quietly.
To people like Heather, criticism (good and bad) comes every day. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, and it doesn’t matter if you can handle it or not. It’s going to be there. Open source doesn’t change that. In fact, no ecosystem in society changes that. It’s there, and it’s not something everyone can deal with.
I would probably be in just as much of an uproar if many people said negative things about something I did. Whether I agree with your reaction (or many others) or not, this won’t be the last time you receive criticism, and what separates people is how they deal with it.
Steve Klabnik, one of the individuals who seems to be a lot more visible, said something that really resonates with how I see communication on the internet (not just Twitter):
Twitter makes it so hard not to accidentally be an asshole.
For posterity, here are some links to the (far too in depth) Hacker News threads: