Dear the Internet,
I, like most of the world, am on social media. And I, like anyone who expresses an opinion and is on social media, have people feeling the need to tell me, a complete stranger, without any prompting, just how stupid I am.
My standard response is straightforward: blockity-block-block.
And I know that part of it is because of the format of Twitter. That’s because it’s the modern equivalent of people yelling out of bus windows: it’s possible to say something meaningful, I guess, but much easier just to tell someone they suck.
And because I have a largely-public-ish Facebook page there are sometimes people who feel that they’re welcome to hove in and have their ill-spelled and/or aggressively stupid say, for reasons I can’t fathom.
And those people get blocked, obviously, because they are loud, obnoxious bullies.
“B-b-but Andrew,” you might theoretically reply, “what about the precious freedom of speech! You’re denying them their all-important right to insult complete strangers in public! Do you want Australia to be North Nazi Russia Korea, commie?”
So, in order that I might have a handy link that I can send to jerks before blocking them – and hey, thanks for reading, jerks! – allow me to outline what I’d like to call the Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions, which is based on years of meticulous research carried out in our nation’s pubs.
And it goes like this:
If I’m sitting at a table with friends in a public beer garden and having a conversation, and someone comes over and says “excuse me, couldn’t help overhearing what you were talking about, mind if I join you?” then they will generally be welcome.
If, however, they barge in and start screaming insults into my friends’ faces, I have zero problem immediately getting the bouncers to turf them out.
I feel this is a good model for online discussions, and also for life in general – not least because hanging with friends in beer gardens is time well spent.
You have an opinion that relates to a discussion and you wish to raise it respectfully in the interests of deepening a conversation? Excellent! You want to call me a fucktard, or change the subject to your own scared crackpot theories? Off you fuck, there’s a good little solider.
I encourage you to use this The Beer Garden Principle in your own lives. Free and open debate is a good thing; abuse is not. Disagreement is useful; threats are not. You don’t owe anyone your time or your attention, in beer gardens or on Twitter. Your time, your choice.
And for those reading this after stamping their angry little feet about something or other and finding themselves blocked, I made you this:
Let the healing begin!