The Golden Rule for Being a Good Citizen of the Internet

Just be nice.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Did you ever hear this line from your parents? It was a classic in my house, along with “Before you play with something, ask yourself–is it a toy, and does it belong to you?” There are four kids in my family, so any saying that could prevent a fight or something from being destroyed was worth repeating.

We learn so many downright useful mantras for living as children. Why do we forget them all when we become adults?

This post was inspired by a wonderful article Grace Bonney posted on Design*Sponge yesterday about negativity on the internet, and specifically about blog commenting. Grace is a great writer and thinker, dog lover, promoter of artists and small businesses, and all around internet heroine, so I highly recommend you read her original post here. She has a rationale for why she believes negativity on the internet occurs and how it can be remedied. I have my own solution, which is less psychologically nuanced than Grace’s, but maybe more straightforward:

Be nice, be constructive, or shut up.

I must confess, I fundamentally do not understand why people leave senselessly mean, unprovoked comments on blogs and other web articles. I just don’t. When I leave a comment, I try to imagine it being read by the person who is responsible for the article (sometimes this is the author, but on a lot of decor/design blogs, it can also be the person whose home is featured), and I want them to go away feeling uplifted. I’m not a saint. I’m not any better or nicer a person than anyone else out there. If I see something I don’t like, I move on. It’s not hard; in fact it’s easy–it only requires that I do nothing.

I’m lucky to have kind and lovely commenters on this blog, and I so enjoy reading your responses and feedback. But I’ve noticed that not everyone on the web is like you beautiful people. I’ve given up reading comments on major news sites almost completely because I can’t stand to see the random and reckless attacks launched in the discussions there. Even the two times I had my work featured in a larger outlet like Apartment Therapy, I was surprised to see how many people chimed in just to say small, needling things like, “It was better before.” Why bother?

To me, the fact that we are all on the internet, in each other’s business, looking at each other’s houses, knowing about each other’s relationships, children, pets, favorite foods, daily habits, etc, means that we have to try even harder to take care of each other. When I taught high school, we all (teachers, that is) made an intense effort to communicate the idea that EVERYONE struggles. We are all fighting the good fight. We would do well to remember that when we get on the internet. If you ever read Love Taza and have had the occasion to look at her FAQs, you may have seen the one that says, “Is life really that perfect?” to which she responds honestly, obviously, “no.” The fact that multiple people have taken time out to ask that question–which can only ever serve to highlight the negative–is extraordinary to me.

I’m not suggesting that people give false praise just to blow smoke up somebody’s ass. Most blogs and bloggers welcome constructive criticism. They want to improve; they want to provide content that speaks to readers. What I want is to stop seeing comments that serve no other purpose than to let a person air his or her personal grievances and prejudices at someone else’s expense. We are better than that.

And after all, if two unapologetic divas like Pepper and Jellybeans can learn to share one tiny lap or cushion (well, sometimes), surely the rest of us can figure out how to play nice is the huge expanse that is cyberspace.

Does negativity on the internet bother you? Have you had experience with it personally?


8 thoughts on “The Golden Rule for Being a Good Citizen of the Internet

  1. i had something featured on Apartment Therapy once, i can’t tell you how thrilled i was, because my husband and i worked SO.HARD on it. and some of the remarks in the comments kinda stung. i went through the whole gamut of, they’re jealous to they’re so petty to finally: my aesthetic is not the same as theirs and i’m ok with that. i also do not go to that post anymore.


    • This was pretty much my exact experience! The first time, I was over the moon just to be featured, I was responding to every single comment, etc. The second time, I checked basically once in case someone had a legitimate question. Then I basically stayed away. I know a lot of people say that you need to have a thick skin. I don’t disagree with that in spirit, but in reality, you did work super hard and you put yourself out there by sharing. Just the common decency to keep silent rather than say something rude is NOT too much to ask. Sorry about the haters! I got no excuse for them, but I’m sure your project was fabulous. 🙂


  2. So glad you brought this topic up. I grew up with “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”.& “Play Nice”. I think with the fast paced speed of our society, we don’t often “Think, before we speak”.

    I had an acquaintance recently who was always speaking negatives. She was very frank & forthcoming in her comments, I languished hard & long as to how to kindly let her know she was alienating people. Your first quote came back to me. I asked if she had ever heard the phrase.
    I was surprised (no shocked!) to hear she had Never heard it… God bless our parents who taught us how to play nice.

    And a final quote I remember often “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” While I understand the compassion in those words, I do feel we are all in this together. I think it is important to kindly reflect back to people what they are unaware of, as you have here.

    I trust I have not offended you for I love your blog & want to support you, as you support us in your gifts of design. Duly noted, I trust we will Ponder longer, before we reply. Blessings to you!


    • Wow, what a wise and generous comment. It was very brave of you to approach your colleague about the way she was speaking to people. That was a great service to her, I’m sure! I wholeheartedly agree that our fast-paced culture leaves little time for people to have a good think about what they say and do. I also think in some ways a premium has been put on the “truth,” and some people think brutal honesty is a-okay no matter how it makes the other person feel.

      Of course you have never, ever offended me! I’m so grateful that you read and for every one of your encouraging comments (like this one!). Thank you!!


  3. I’ve been lucky enough not to experience negativity on my own blog, but it does sadden me that it’s gotten to the point where I can’t even glance at the comments on news sites or even other people’s Facebook statuses about things that aren’t mainstream. I love the internet – there’s so much information and I love that I can wonder about something, pull out my phone and look it up. But I also hate the internet sometimes. It can be exhausting.

    x Kathryn
    Through the Thicket


    • I’m so glad you haven’t experienced any negativity. Your blog is so positive an inspirational, if people were leaving hateful stuff there, I would REALLY be depressed! I think it’s a problem more in large communities like big blogs and web sites, but I did once see something rude and uncalled for in one of Cat’s comments. I almost replied with a rant, but someone beat me to it with something short and pithy. I was very grateful because I hate conflict, but when someone is being attacked for no reason, I get so disgusted. JUST BE NICE, people!


  4. hmmm… First i have become a fan of yours because I like your writeups. Your also very sweet to your readers commentators and I can’t write something or negative for you. about cyberspace comments, you should know what nonsense they write, be it a forum on face, a small post will draw lots of comments especially if the topic is controversial. I am generally a sentitive person and I commented on a post that talked about religion and something on somebody dealing about some relationship. I was branded with all bad names, propagating some ideas all nonsense, I felt I was stupid to have commented on public in the first place where strangers comment offensively. I guess its absolute waste of time commenting on forums having stupid people. My facebook page I get some post or other where several people give their opinions. That being said online I made some friends too, people who like animals, travel and like cracking jokes and have a good time, I like communicating or commenting in their posts because they are sensible people. Anyway nice thought, I know you always believe in being nice to people, its called respect and that respect we all should have irrespective of who ever the person is commenting, and you are right no one is perfect and we should stive in keeping everyone happy.


    • Thank you for your kind words, Maria. I’m sorry to hear about the negativity you encountered on the forums! I’m with you in thinking that respect is just as important online as face-to-face. It’s sad that we sometimes have to learn through bad experiences which online communities are welcoming and which are not. That’s why I also try to stick to sites where commenters keep things positive and always make sure I’m sending out positivity to others!


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