Someone is wrong on the internet? But why do you take it so personally?

Yesterday at around 7AM, I posted a question to four atheist groups I’m in on Facebook. It was an innocent question… This:

Question: On the term “New Atheists”… Do any atheists call themselves that, or is it a label used by theists to criticize atheists? According to Google, new atheists are atheists who are activists combining atheism and secularism, but I’m not convinced.

I think it was a good question, and the consensus seems to be that this term was imposed on us, and may be a euphemism for “militant atheists”. So it’s a term used by haters, on which they build a straw man to attack atheists, where generalization can be used along with a fallacy of composition, much like I mentioned that Chris Hedges did the other day.

But the useful debate that resulted from the question can perhaps be discussed another day. I’m more interested in what happened on the group Atheist and Humanist South Africa. It was always my intention for the OP to generate discussion about human rights and other issues that atheist activists might care about, but I didn’t anticipate what might happen… In that discussion, someone became really upset about feminism.

He posted something that was upsetting to others, and two people responded, then he argued with them, for about six or seven hours. This resulted in hundreds of notifications, so many I had to mute my mobile phone volume because it was becoming annoying. The person ended up responding to the others with messages such as, “Fuck you. You don’t know me”.

Why? Why is it so important to be right, or at least to continue arguing even when you know that you said something out of line? But he wasn’t the only person at fault. In an online argument that persists for several hours, everybody participating is trying to have the last word, in an exchange that deteriorates to childishness from all participants. Having an audience seems to make it worse. I wonder if it instigates people to keep trying. Sometimes it’s not about the argument any more… It’s about showing how clever or informed or witty you are, showing that you are superior, but it never comes across as you think it does. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this happen. (Although it was the first time it happened to my OP, such that I received hundreds of notifications for most of the day.)

So please, think before you have these pointless arguments online, and make arses of yourselves. Think: Are you really right, and does it matter? Also, don’t you have anything better to do?

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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