Coach Kim: Is the internet making us meaner?

In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim answers a reader's question and explains the ways being and communicating online has made us meaner to each other.

In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim answers a reader's question and explains the ways being and communicating online has made us meaner to each other. (Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim answers a reader's question and explains the ways being and communicating online has made us meaner to each other.

Question:

I was recently "ghosted" by my partner. Along with the sadness of the breakup, I am also feeling emotions of embarrassment and shock. What red flags do people who "ghost" usually exhibit? How do you deal with the trust and self-esteem issues that almost feel inevitable? Maybe you could write about not doing this to other people and explain why people are so mean online?

Answer:

There have been many changes in our world in the last two years, and it appears that we are treating our fellow human beings worse than ever. It seems like online/tele-everything is lessening our ability to treat other humans with love and respect.

A recent article in the Deseret News says, "People seem to have so many things to be angry about today, whether it's wearing masks or not wearing them, keeping schools open or refusing to close them, getting vaccinated or thinking it's dangerous, or just feeling powerless against forces out of their control."

The whole world is functioning in a fear of loss state, where they feel at risk and believe they must protect themselves from other people. The pandemic has made us afraid of each other and we often see other humans as a threat — and this is not just about catching the virus. We see people who have different views, look different, or live differently as more threatening than ever, too.

We also have a greater tendency to say rude things online than we ever would face to face. I have experienced this with negative comments to my articles here. This phenomenon is known as the online disinhibition effect. As a KQED article explains it as, "Essentially, being online lowers your inhibitions. This often results in people either behaving meaner or opening up more online than they normally would in face-to-face conversations."

A recent survey from Pew Research showed that 40% of American adults have personally experienced abuse online. While we generally conduct real-life interactions with strangers politely and respectfully, online we can be horrible.


Essentially, being online lowers your inhibitions. This often results in people either behaving meaner or opening up more online than they normally would in face-to-face conversations.

–Lauren Farrar, KQED


This is especially true in high schools and junior high schools, where we see cyberbullying causing problems, and in online dating. In the first quarter of 2020, Tinder reported 3 billion swipes in a single day. But, this is not necessarily a good thing.

We are starting to treat dating about as seriously as a video game or a take-out order, as lifestyle writer Mary Crace Garis says. In an article for Well+Good, Garis quotes Camille Virginia, founder of the relationship coaching service Master Offline Dating, thus: "There's a direct correlation between the investment of effort to meet someone and how much value gets placed on that person, When you put the same amount of effort into swiping on a dating app as you would into ordering Chinese takeout for lunch, you're going to subconsciously value the person in that moment about the same as you do the food. I'd actually argue most people would value their Chinese food even more than the people they're swiping on."

The problem is that dating apps also make it seem like there is an endless number of other options ready and waiting if you don't like the one you are talking to. This, along with the fact that dating apps feel a little like a video game, can make us forget that real people with real feelings are involved.

We also have people who are online dating but who have no intention of actual dating at the end of it. They might be just looking around, dipping a toe in, but they often quickly decide they aren't up for it and disappear. Some like spending time swiping and browsing people, but they aren't actually ready to date or even single yet.

This has created a whole new world of terrible human behaviors like ghosting, cloaking, bread crumbing, and zombieing other people. It's important to know about these terms because teens and young adults use these techniques in their cyberbullying.

Let's clarify a few of them now:

  • Canceling: To stop all following, interacting with or supporting a person because of something they did or said. This can be a cruel form of cyberbullying.
  • Ghosting: When a person cuts off all communication with their friend or date with zero warning or notice beforehand. You'll mostly see them avoiding friends' phone calls, social media, and even avoiding them in public.
  • Cloaking: When a person arranges a date at an agreed-upon destination just to have one party not show up. When they try to reach out to contact that person they find the person has erased all record of conversation and online existence, leaving the cloaked victim clueless and hurt.
  • Benching: When you aren't interested enough to actually go on a date with someone, but you don't want them to move on either. You keep them on the sideline so you could decide to date them later. This means stringing them along (keeping them on the bench) but not in the game.
  • Bread crumbling: This is very similar to benching, but you keep sending flirty messages (bread crumbs) so they don't feel dumped. You like their attention and want to keep that, but you also aren't willing to go on a date with them.
  • Cookie jarring: When a person keeps one hand in the cookie jar with some other options in case their main squeeze doesn't work out.
  • Cushioning: When you keep a few people on the bench in case it doesn't work out with the one you are dating. You might keep a bunch of other people in your life as a cushion or option later.
  • Catfishing: This is when a person creates a false profile and communicates with you pretending to be someone else. This is incredibly cruel and deceptive, as its only goal is to mess with and hurt another person. To avoid this, insist on a video chat early on when you meet someone.
  • Kittenfishing: This is when you have a real profile online, but your pics are filtered and don't look like you or they are from when you were much younger, and you have not been completely honest about yourself.
  • Haunting: This is when a person breaks up with you, but they are still lurking around you on social media, liking your posts, or leaving subtle reminders they are still out there and still have eyes on you.
  • Stashing: This is not letting anyone know anything about the person you are dating. You don't introduce them to your friends and family, and you aren't showing pictures of them on social media. This shows a lack of commitment on your part.
  • Zombieing: This happens when a person ghosted you and disappeared, but now they are back again and acting as nothing happened. It feels like they have returned from the dead, but there is a yucky aroma about it and it doesn't feel safe.

There can, of course, be good reasons to block someone you met online. There may be red flags or scary behavior, and you absolutely should protect yourself and be careful. Having said that, for most people (who aren't dangerous), a quick message that you've changed your mind and aren't interested would be the respectful, kind way of handling it. Even better, give them some honest feedback and sincerely wish them the best of luck out there. If you struggle with the courage to be honest, check out a recent KSL.com article I wrote: "Delivering bad news as nicely as possible."

Related:

All of the behaviors listed above are driven by fear. People are afraid of real communication, honesty, vulnerability and owning who they are and where they are. You might watch out for people who are very slow in moving forward, aren't good at communicating, and aren't willing to take the next step to video chat or meet. Those are red flags that they are only interested in swiping and then quickly off to the next option.

If you are going to participate in online dating or any online interaction with other humans, you should be ready to handle these interactions with honesty, respect and courage. Care enough to consider how they will feel and what they need. People would rather hear the truth — even if it hurts — than they would be left totally confused.

If you have been ghosted online or treated disrespectfully, remember that it isn't really about you at all. It happened because that person is scared and functioning in fear. They don't have the confidence to handle themselves in a respectful way. They might think they need to treat others badly to feel powerful and good, but this never leads to happiness.

You probably dodged a bullet here. It's better to find out that they aren't ready for a real relationship/friendship or aren't right for you now than later.

Do not allow this person to lessen your intrinsic value as a person. You have the same value as every other human on the planet and what one person thinks of you doesn't change anything. Understand the right person for you will show up and love you exactly as you are. You may have to go through a lot of scared, immature, unprepared, people online to find the one you are looking for, but don't give up. Just go into any online networking knowing that these common bad behaviors happen to everyone, and be ready to shrug them off when they happen to you.

You can do this.

More LIFEadvice:


About the Author: Kim Giles

Coach Kim Giles is a master life coach and speaker who helps clients improve themselves and their relationships. She is the author of "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and has a free clarity assessment available on her website claritypointcoaching.com. To read more of her articles, visit Coach Kim's KSL.com author page.

Editor's Note: Anything in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to (a) be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition; (b) create, and receipt of any information does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. You should NOT rely upon any legal information or opinions provided herein. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel; and (c) create any kind of investment advisor or financial advisor relationship. You should NOT rely upon the financial and investment information or opinions provided herein. Any opinions, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse nor is it responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, information, or statement made in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.

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