Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not calling you an asshole. No. What I am doing, though, is holding you accountable for both the company you choose to keep and the company you choose to ignore.
Over the last year or so, I have heard variations of the following question many times: Why are there so many mean people on the internet? This question is often accompanied by this statement: I am afraid to blog [or start blogging] because there are so many mean people on the internet.
I am here to tell you that, yes, there are mean people on the internet. There are people out there who will tell you your haircut stinks and your kids are ugly and that you're a dick for having feelings about the things you have feelings about. Nobody likes those mean people. They don't even like them.
I am also here to tell you that there are less of them out there than there are of decent people who don't suck as much, and if what you're noticing most on the internet is the mean people, then you are doing one or both of two things:
1) You are choosing to hang out with or near mean people,
2) you are not paying enough attention to the people who don't suck as much as the mean people, or
3) you are choosing to hang out with or near mean people while simultaneously not paying enough attention to the people who don't suck as much as the mean people.
In short, you are doing it wrong.
I was originally going to write this from a happy-go-lucky perspective and wax happy about how there is an ocean of fantastic people to connect with on the internet, so go find them, which is absolutely true — THERE IS AN OCEAN OF FANTASTIC PEOPLE TO CONNECT WITH ON THE INTERNET. GO FIND THEM. — but it struck me that one of the roots of this problem, this woe-is-me attitude about the existence of mean people online, is the lack of personal responsibility we tend to take for how we choose to tailor our own online experiences.
We can't always help seeing the troll that rears its ugly head on Twitter or in our blog comments to tell us exactly how much we suck for being alive, but we can help seeing people being ugly toward other people to a rather large extent. If you read YouTube comments, bookmark a hateful website, or follow unkind people on Twitter, you are inviting assholes into your online experience. You are choosing them, not the other way around.
You create your own internet population, to an extent, all trolls aside. You choose who you follow on Twitter and friend on Facebook. You choose which blogs you subscribe to in your feedreader. You choose whether or not to read comments on sites rife with jerks. The assholes didn't invite you to their party. You did, and when you did, you made your personal internet's asshole population go up. It doesn't mean that there are more of them overall. It just means that you are paying attention to more of them. Your stats are subjective.
Stop inviting yourself to where the assholes live, and there won't be quite so many of them to contend with anymore, and, when there are less assholes around, you just might notice how fucking awesome most of the people populating cyberspace are.
The internet has Jen Lemens and Anissa Mayhews and Ryans in it. There are Kyran Pittmans and Karen Walronds and Amanda Palmers. There are Palinodes (I'm biased) and Kate Inglises and Bloggesses. There are even some funny assholes who won't make you feel bad like Lifecoachers and Mike Monteiro (nsfw). The internet is awash in fantastic, creative people who do and say things that make you want to be a better person, or at least a person who doesn't suck as much as the mean people.
If your internet is full of assholes, it's your own fault for artificially jacking up their population in your sphere of experience and not paying attention to what's awesome. Cut that out.
To echo part of a line from Smoky the Bear: Only you can prevent assholes.
Now go forward and follow awesome.