Having good conversations on the internet even though it's full of jerks

On the internet, there are a lot of people. There are massive numbers of jerks. There are also massive numbers of nice people.

If you focus on the jerks, you’ll never run out of jerks to talk to. If you engage with everyone who is mean to you, your life will be full of conversations with mean people.

This is true in reverse as well. If you seek out people who want to listen to you, you can have good conversations. If you reply primarily to people who respect you, then your life will be full of conversations with people who are treating you well.

Focusing on people who treat you well is a choice that you have to keep making, over and over again. It won’t happen automatically, and many people will try to push you into interacting with mean people. Some of them will be mean people who devote a lot of time honing their skills at demanding attention so they can hurt people. (Eg: 4chan trolls.) Some of them will be people who basically have good intentions but think that you have to reply to everyone. Some of them will be people who try to draw you into every fight they have.

Focusing on respectful interactions can be very difficult, but it’s worth it.

I think these are some basic principles for how to do that:

Talk to people who are listening.

  • If someone is making a serious attempt to understand what you are saying, they’re likely a good person to talk to
  • If they’re mocking it, twisting your words, or telling you that you’re a terrible person, they’re probably not a good person to talk to

Talk to people you want to listen to.

  • If you think that what someone has to say is worthwhile, they’re likely a good person for you to talk to
  • If you have active contempt for someone and their opinions, you’re probably better off talking to someone else

It is possible to have respectful conversations with people who you disagree with about important things:

  • In a respectful conversation, they listen to what you are actually saying and respond to it
  • In a respectful conversation, you respond to what they are actually saying
  • Neither side makes personal attacks
  • (Explaining why an idea is harmful is not a personal attack. Calling someone who disagrees with you human garbage is.)
  • Neither side engages in language dickery
  • (One or both of you might be angry, vehement, passionate, or heated. None of those are the same thing as contempt).

It’s ok to publicly explain why you don’t respect an idea, or have contempt for a particular person’s worldview:

  • It’s best not to do that as a conversation with that person, though
  • Conversations with someone you don’t respect tend to go poorly (especially if they don’t respect you either)
  • It’s much more effective and pleasant to discuss those ideas with people who want to listen to your perspective on them

tl;dr: The internet is a much more pleasant and productive place if you focus on interactions with people you respect and who treat you well.  Conversations go better when both people in them are listening and responding to content. If someone has contempt for you or you have contempt for them, it’s probably time to find someone else to talk to.