We all crave human interaction, especially when it sometimes becomes scarce like in the past couple years. And when we can't get our dopamine hits from warm, thoughtful conversations we'll settle for angry flame wars instead.
So whenever you feel your teeth clenching and your heart rate spiking, you might want to check if you're engaging in any of these bad behaviors yourself.
Note: I also previously wrote about the other side of the coin, how to better take online criticism.
People are only jumping on the Foo.js bandwagon because of all the hype! You don't need any of this fancy stuff!
Let's start with one of the most common toxic behaviors you'll see developers engage in: dismissing others' opinions when they don't coincide with theirs.
If someone tells you they appreciate a particular piece of software, chances are it's solving a very real problem for them. Proclaiming they're just "following the hype" is condescending, and shows a lack of curiosity for the other person's point of view.
Maybe you're not experiencing that particular problem yourself, or maybe you've already developed your own coping strategy that has by now become second nature. In any case just because you're not aware of the problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
I don't think I've ever seen a worse piece of code than Foo.js! My 7-year-old could write a better library!
We spend a large part of our lives interacting with huge corporations that do everything in their power to hide away their human elements and confront us with a digital corporate blob instead. As a result, it's very easy to forget that not all online interactions fit that mold.
If you're yelling at an open-source maintainer on GitHub then that's a real person whose day you've ruined. And just because someone has tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers doesn't mean they won't react just like you would to a nasty tweet.
We all need to vent sometimes. Just make sure your venting isn't in turn causing more stress elsewhere!
Why so many videos about Foo.js? I bet you're taking money from BigTechCo, it's all rigged anyway!
Similarly, because the behemoths that surround us deal in billions of dollars, it can be tempting to think everybody in tech is swimming in money.
But the truth is that the vast majority of open-source contributors and maintainers give up their time without seeing a cent in return, and the same goes for many bloggers, podcasters, or YouTubers. As you might imagine, this makes these accusations of corruption or greed all the more hurtful.
And for a well-documented example of what can happen when this conspiratorial mindset takes hold in a community, look no further than Gamergate.
Why would I pay $5 for the Foo.js update when there are far better libraries out there for free?!
Would you ever step foot inside a restaurant solely for the purpose of informing them that their prices are too high, and you won't be dining there today?
This kind of behavior would seem totally out of place in daily life, yet for some reason we engage in it all the time online!
If you don't want to pay $5, or sign up, or leave your email to access some kind of service then just don't do it and move on. If you really feel some kind of obligation to let someone know about it then leaving a respectful GitHub issue or sending a nice email is fine too. But anything more than that will just make you seem entitled.
I saw you were talking about Foo.js, and I can't believe anyone could have such a stupid take.
It's fine to engage if someone directly mentions you and expects a response, but don't go actively searching for things to take offense to.
Sometimes people are just trying to let off steam by screaming into the void, and having the void scream back to go fuck themselves can feel very jarring and stalker-y, no matter how hurt the void's feelings were.
Note: this is one I struggle with a lot myself!
Look at what that idiot is saying about Foo.js!
Whenever you quote-tweet someone instead of replying to them, you're essentially trying to bring down some good old mob justice on them and boost your own ego in the process.
If you really want to engage in productive discussion then no need to bring all your followers into it. In fact, for sensitive topics I've often DM'd or emailed the person I disagree with rather than engage in public debate to avoid exposing them to potential third-party abuse.
How could Foo.js lack such a basic feature? It shows how little you care about your users!
When we judge something we see online, we're often only seeing the tip of a much larger iceberg. Maybe that developer spent weeks trying to implement that feature only to give up because they just couldn't make it work.
Or maybe that product designer fought meeting after meeting to fix that one annoying issue you brought up, but got shut down time after time due to lack of resources.
The point is, it doesn't hurt to do a little bit of background research before lobbing a truth bomb, just to make sure you have the right target.
Foo.js isn't even properly accessible! It really shouldn't surprise me from someone like you!
Just because you're on the right side of an issue doesn't mean you should be an asshole.
Sure, some anger is understandable when it's a topic you care deeply about, and I'm not trying to engage in tone policing here. And yes, shame can be an effective tool to change someone's behavior.
But let's be honest here: in the vast majority of cases, whenever we choose to dunk on someone instead of engaging with them in a more constructive manner, what we're essentially doing is prioritizing our own satisfaction over actually trying to make things better.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to call out anybody specific as a "toxic person" here. Instead I believe these are patterns we all fall prey to from time to time – at least I know that I've personally engaged in every one of these behaviors at some point.
All I'm hoping is that maybe if we're more aware of these pitfalls, it'll help us avoid them.
And if you think I'm wrong… well then you're obviously just a paid corporate shill who blindly follows the hype and doesn't care about your fellow human being, and I can't wait to tell my Twitter timeline all about you!
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash