How Not To Be An Asshole On The Internet When Everyone’s Upset » VSB

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How Not To Be An Asshole On The Internet When Everyone’s Upset

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


This has been one of the most depressing weeks of news I can remember. Mike Brown. The fallout in Ferguson. #Iftheygunnedmedown and every other reminder that, as Deadspin’s Greg Howard put it, America is Not For Black People. The news of Robin Williams’ death. Learning that he committed suicide. The dozens of powerful, heartbreaking stories about battling with depression and/or suicide, including those penned by friends.

But, although “social media” often gets spoken about like a singular boogieman, a digital phantasm haunting our monitors and ruling our lives, it’s times like these when you really see the benefit of being able to share so many ideas and opinions and so much damn information. While cynics will doubt this, I have no doubt that oft-maligned “hashtag activism” matters. It makes a difference. I’m not sure exactly what difference it’s making, but it’s not a bad thing if a medium or act leads to more engagement in and awareness of an important cause.

That said, when you have low barriers to entry — and people pandering to low-information readers — you also end up with people doing things like using the Mike Brown murder to ask why “no one cares about Black on White crime” or using Robin Williams’ death as an opportunity to tweet about their lack of sympathy for those who commit suicide or just being a “..well, actually…” shitbag when their irreverence is neither as necessary nor as clever as they think it is.

To avoid being one of those people — and to fix yourself if you are — here’s a simple guide on what not to do when you’re on the internet and everyone is upset about something.

1. Don’t use this as an opportunity to lob completely irrelevant criticisms at the recently deceased

No one cared that you thought Robin Williams was an overrated hack last week, so why use his death as an opportunity to share a thought no one gives a damn about right now. Because you want to annoy, that’s why. And you’re a shitbag.

2. Don’t use this as an opportunity to speak more about your preconceived and tangentially-related agenda 

And yes, this means when a conversation about street harassment is brewing, don’t try to flip it with your awkward segue about how “this crack down on street harassment is really just a White supremacist/Negro bed wench ploy to get more Black men in prison.” (Actual people have actually said this, btw)

3. Don’t post graphic pictures of the recently deceased

This doesn’t apply as much to the Mike Brown murder — where the picture of him laying in the street for hours is a vital part of the furor over his death. Instead, I’m talking more about what happened the week after Paul Walker’s fatal accident, where images of his lifeless body found their way across my Facebook newsfeed. I get that some of you are morbid motherfuckers. But really, what do you get out of sharing an image like that? What benefit does it bring you, besides reminding everyone you’re a morbid motherfucker?

4. Don’t ask stupid-ass questions 

And yes, “Why do people care this much about Mike Brown when there are people dying every day in Nigeria?” is a stupid-ass question.

5. Don’t talk about how much you don’t care about whatever it is that everyone is upset about

If you don’t care that damn much, don’t say anything. Why? Because making the effort to publicly say something — even if the something is you saying “I don’t care” — proves that you care. 

6. Just..don’t be an asshole

I know this is hard for many people, especially those whose social relevance and currency is tied to them being a predictable internet shitbag. But, if the entire internet is upset about something, and you feel like being your typical self is inevitable, take your weekly shower, brush your shitbag teeth, get dressed, and go for a nice 96-hour-long run. By the time you get back, maybe the feelings won’t still be as raw, and you can go back to being a predictable internet shitbag in peace.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • LadyIbaka

    Please tell me #4 is something you made up to illustrate your point and not an actual tweetestion!!!

    • Damon Young

      I bet a 30 second search on Twitter would find even worse questions

  • Secret Sauce

    I’m tired of the “why don’t anybody talk about the violence in Chicago?” question when an incident like the one in Ferguson took place. I just wanna punch a mofo in that space between the ear and the back of the neck after hearing that.

    • Prior who say this are never actively involved in any discussion related to gun violence in any black community. Ignore them.

    • I had a debate on Twitter with a #butchicago tweeter, i merely asked her to name one person lost to black on black violence this evening and it was crickets.

    • Damon Young

      thing is, five seconds of Google research would show them that EVERYONE is talking about violence in Chicago

  • SR

    Dammit, just looking at that pic makes me want to throw something. It’s barely Wednesday and I already need a dose of good news

    • Damon Young

      well, ciara and future broke up

      • Kozy

        there’s a fatherless/baby Future joke here I can’t quite bring together

        • Sigma_Since 93

          So does the baby go from being a trophy to a boobie prize?
          Does Future now feel like a loser after proclaiming he’d won?

          *Somewhere 50 Cent’s telling someone this would not have happened if she had the baby by me*

          • this makes me sad…

            • Sigma_Since 93

              Other than the obvious reasons, why does this make you sad?

              • lol I’m not sure what the obvious reasons are.

                Buuuut she’s 3 months postpartum, which can be a tremendously emotional and hormonal transitioning time for women. Going through a breakup in the middle of learning motherhood is awful. I just empathize.

                Plus, I rather like young, Black married couples who are celebrities.

                • Sigma_Since 93

                  That was the obvious part in my mind unless she proposed it. Postpartum depression / issues, something folks only seem to talk about when a mom snaps, is no joke. I kept an eagle eye on Mrs. SS93 in hopes of ensuring she was ok.

          • Kozy

            I can’t call it. sucks that the cause of the breakup was him stepping out. also sucks that i’m not really surprised.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Does she get to keep the Bentley??

      • are you for serious?

      • LadyIbaka

        Nooooooooo way! Oi.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Good try Damon, but….people as a whole suck. You can make a call to individuals and usually they respond successfully with the right attitude to the according situation. But humanity as whole just sucks. We should have never gave these nigs technology because nobody has any regrets or fliters, they just let the BS fly with no worries.

    On any given day, I can go to 4chan to see gifs of people being decapitated or run over by cars, I can go on to Jezebel having a full on post on Gawker media not doing anything about random posts of rape gifs on their site by fake commenters, and I can go on Instagram to see memes comparing baby mommas that are annoying to Gaza victims that died.

    I’m sorry but I never need to question where the humanity is. It wasn’t here to begin with.

    That Greg Howard piece was excellent though..the militarization of the police is something we’ve slept on way too long.

    • PhlyyPhree

      You know…that’s why there are some places on the internet I just won’t go for my sanity’s sake.
      *makes note of every site you just listed*

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Trust me love, you did yourself a favor there

    • Jay

      I agree. The world hasn’t gotten worse, if anything its gotten better. The only difference is that now, “shitbags” have the greatest megaphone ever: the internet. One of the best things about the internet is that everyone has a voice. One of the worst things about the internet… everyone has a voice.

      • You’ve said it way better than I did. Good job!

      • Basically.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Exactly. Power is supposed to be earned, and there is power in words. Hence why when you speak in public, you watch your words because you’ll never know the reactions of others. But giving everyone the same amount of power when none of them earned it is dangerous,because now everybody can escape responsibility for their actions. And then they think its funny.

    • The whole militarization of police thing ultimately comes from the impulse to use government power to regulate social change. This isn’t necessarily because of racism. After all, a whole lot of Black folk were calling for mandatory minimums during the crack wave, and things like high cigarette taxes and cutting down on neighborhood nuisances are facially racially neutral. However, once you put armed men and women into the situation with their personal biases as to how the world should work, Bad Things happen.

      And yet government is the answer…

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Its that but there’s also the surplus of military equipment from the the Iraq War onwards. The government got tired of arming people that want to kill us, so they sold it to the states instead.

        Look at Camden, NJ. 24/7 surveillance, you know that ish Orsen Wells warned us about so many years ago.

        • Don’t get me started on Camden. That place makes Brownsville feel like a well-off lily white suburb. Throw in New Jersey’s home rule, and the blatant corruption it enables, and I don’t exactly blame the governor for what he did. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but the factors behind it are a unique function of how the state is governed, and no political group wants to trash it because everyone is getting their cut.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Its clearly a cash grab but its also proof the reality we said would.never happen has already happened. I encourage everyone to view the Vice News article about Camden’s current state because when I watched it, iknew things were officially over.

      • Damon Young

        “The whole militarization of police thing ultimately comes from the impulse to use government power to regulate social change. This isn’t necessarily because of racism. After all, a whole lot of Black folk were calling for mandatory minimums during the crack wave”

        even that was racism related, though. crack was intially funneled into the black communities. so, with the call for mandatory minimums, you have a seemingly race-neutral reaction to a racist policy

        • My larger point wasn’t that racism wasn’t a part of the situation. It’s that a lot of stuff used to target young Black men was cosigned by a lot of Black people and significant amounts of Black leadership. One cannot oppress but by the sanction of the victim.

    • Damon Young

      “But humanity as whole just sucks.”

      I disagree

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Maybe we can expand on this.

        I think the base nature of human beings is always being held back by society’s standards. People don’t want to look bad in the eyes of society unless they choose to. But the success of technology allows a shift of responsibility, a shift in self esteem, and a shift in society’s standards.

        If you can bypass the status quo without being caught, then people will follow their basic instincts to act like a fool. Not all people, but many. Without the watchful eye of the world, theres nothing left to check that lack of empathy we all have deep down. Give everybody peer and most will be corrupted easily, while very few will check themselves.

        This is why I know we aren’t all built equally, because we all aren’t meant to have the same things.

  • PhlyyPhree

    I literally just tweeted that this week has been one of the hardest I’ve had to endure in a while….and it’s only Wednesday.

    But I often wonder if as$holes KNOW they’re being as$holes. Like it’s one of those things where Id and ego don’t meet? They see themselves as just “keeping it real” or “exercising their right to free speech” when really they are idiots. Is there some task force that can help them, help themselves to a nice tall order of STFU? Because I’m STILL seeing a lot of the “respectability police” on my assorted timelines. I saw someone tweet that “Black people killed Micheal Brown before the police ever killed him” and I literally threw my phone today because of it.

    • LadyIbaka

      a$sholes KNOW they are a$swipes, no doubt about that.

    • SR

      “I saw someone tweet that “Black people killed Micheal Brown before the police ever killed him” and I literally threw my phone today because of it.”

      I would love to know their thought process behind that statement.. Then I’d like to tell them said individual to $#%& off!

      • IsitFridayyet?

        This “logic’ made my head hurt.

        • PhlyyPhree

          All of this makes my heart hurt

      • PhlyyPhree

        I circled back around to it and I believe they delved into the whole “well, if he wasn’t sagging his pants, the police wouldn’t have told him to stop” and then sprinkled it with “we’ve let our men and black boys become hoodlums and this is what they get. We have to respect ourselves first…”

        The ONLY part of their statements I agreed with was that we need to make sure we respect ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be first, last or anything else in order for others to give us respect that is deserves by virtue of being a human being. Like I said, after that I kinda just gave up on trying to even talk sense into the fool.

    • Damon Young

      i think people like the attention that comes with saying/thinking something different than what everyone else is saying/thinking, even if the thought/statement is a lie. it makes them feel smarter

      • PhlyyPhree

        But of course. That’s like a required part of getting their 15 seconds of fame. I KNOW some people who are contrary JUST to be contrary so that they can then say they’re different like there are awards for that sh!t.

  • Jay

    Yesterday my cousin asked me who was this “Mike Brown” person that was all over his timeline. I didn’t know all of the details but had heard about it so I replied “I think it’s one of the young black dudes killed by police for nothing.” We then spent the next five minutes discussing which one he was. There’s so many…I can’t keep up.

    • PhlyyPhree

      That makes me so sad. And now there are reports of another in LA.

      Every 28 hours….

      • h.h.h.

        A 24 year old African American man, Ezell Ford, was shot and killed by LAPD in South LA yesterday. There are two different accounts of the story though. Both the eye witnesses and the police agree on one thing: Patrol Officers approached Ezell for an investigative stop which led to some kind of struggle. The family and witnesses said that Ezell had mental issues but was unarmed. After the struggle, they said the police officers laid him on his back and shot him 3 times. The P.O.’s said that they shot him in the midst of the struggle but are keeping quiet about the details. They wouldn’t even tell Ezell’s mother which hospital her son was taken to. People are waiting for them to explain how and why an unarmed male was shot in the back multiple times.

        • h.h.h.

          -got the info offa someone via facebook.

        • This is reminiscent of an incident a couple years ago of a Black male adult film star who died in a similar situation with LAPD:

        • Sigma_Since 93

          THIS is my fear right here. Although my son is high functioning within the autism spectrum, it’s instances / potential interactions like these that keep me on edge mentally.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          Being a government employee, its appalling how often information is withheld until the story is spun the way they want it to be. You could literally lie to a victim’s family in order to string things out

      • Epsilonicus

        I heard there may have been one in Salt Lake City too

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Our challenge is not to fall victim to death fatigue and the news cycle. Just because the news has moved on does not mean we should.

    • Damon Young

      yeah, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up. i don’t know if this is because there’s more incidents like this, or because there’s more awareness of them

  • nillalatte

    I can’t help it Champ. I’m an internet a-hole. I went to AA (A-holes Anonymous), but I couldn’t remain ‘anonymous’ because of my a-holishness ways. They kicked me in the pants and almost gave me a new A-hole. No lie. Well, somewhat of a lie.

    Look, I’m spent. This week, and a couple of days last week, have just been… rough. Whose ready for HUMP DAYHHH?!

    • Damon Young

      i’m married now, so every day is hump day for me.

      (I’ll be here all night, folks)

      • Lea Thrace


      • nillalatte

        Touche’… lol

  • The worsts I’ve stumbled into today were the ones that implied that Robin Williams either killed himself to keep the attention off of Mike Brown or that the media was hyping him up to do the same. One, I think someone despondent enough to kill themselves probably wasn’t checking the news that tough. Even a suicidal David Duke couldn’t have pulled that off if he wanted to. Two, there’s the minor issue that Robin Williams has been nationally famous since disco was big, and has won ridiculous amounts of honors. The fact that the president made a formal statement on his passing is only the 8th one he’s made about someone in Arts and Letters, and puts him in the company of Michael Jackson, Ray Bradbury and Ruby Dee. Gee, he might be slightly more famous than a random Black kid from a St. Louis suburb who got gunned down by cops.

    Despite the internet a$$holes, there is a lesson in the confluence of these incidents. That a famous, wealthy, beloved White man could be so moved by his own humanity to the point where suicide was the only option means that all these cops have at least the potential for humanity. Their humanity means that they can potentially see Black lives as less of a threat and more of someone that could be their own brother, son, father or friend. And that would definitely save lives.

    • Damon Young

      “Robin Williams either killed himself to keep the attention off of Mike Brown”

      this is talented trolling

      • And sadly I saw this more than once on Facebook. I wish I was joking.

        • Ohhh, I’ve seen people go so far as to say that Black people who mourn Robin Williams are self-hating because Robin Williams killed HIMSELF (and therefore deserves no grief), but Mike Brown was killed. #StayWoke

    • esa

      i just met with someone who was very close to Robin and told me the truth. this is why i am learning to closely vet my sources. #verify

      • Are you at liberty to share the details?

        • esa

          no. i wouldnt do him like that. the key lesson for me in receiving this information is the very important reminder for me to vet my sources and watch my tongue. there are ethics in journalism, even if few practice them.

  • Somewhere down the line it became cool to not care, caring makes you weak. You tweet reckless because who cares if some followers file for the exit, you attempt to hijack the narrative because who cares that someone doesn’t want to receive your message (you know like….nvm), you make jokes because who cared about the offended; they are just sensitive and cant take a joke. Because its cool, right?

    • Damon Young

      it’s always been cool not to care for certain people. it’s just now these people have multiple mediums to loudly profess how much they don’t care

  • Sigma_Since 93

    I gotta put this out here. Why is it that it takes death to finally get people to do things they SHOULD be doing??? We SHOULD have better health and mental health resources made available to us but capitalism keeps it out of reach of many. Folks dying at the hands of cops SHOULD NOT be the reason folks get off their arses and begin to look at the root causes of problems you’ve been told about.

    Both of these instances should not be used by those who don’t know or show to feign ignorance by being a tool.

    • ED

      We often need a shock to our system to move us to action

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Shocks??? So much voltage has gone though our systems we should be deceased!

    • Damon Young

      because, life. it’s so easy to get caught up in the daily minutiae of living that you forget about macro concerns. it’s the same reason why it takes a heart attack for people to start eating better and working out.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        That’s still part of the problem. We all know folks who have died of things that should cause us to “do better” but we regress over time. If we know better we should always do better.

    • esa

      ~ Why is it that it takes death to finally get people to do things they SHOULD be doing???

      because for some, death is the only motivation to make a real change in life. and let me just say that this is no small thing. millions of folks had died in vain, and that is one of the saddest things to occur in life.

      for those that die and become a spark, a cause, a reason for us to take action, we are blessed that for them we can still be moved to action,for the human condition is the eternal struggle between the life and death instincts.

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