Every time you are cruel online, you are making it more acceptable for others to be that way. (Courtesy image)

Save yourself: Don’t read the comments section

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Earlier this week, reporter Joe Fitz tweeted out part of an angry voicemail left on the Examiner’s news tip line.

“‘Evil people like @BrokeAssStuart … trying to take away your rights with gun control … you have the power to stand up to this guy!’ **blows raspberries**”

It absolutely made my day. The thought of this guy getting riled up enough to bluster into the tip line, simply because I advocate for less gun violence …well, that’s just hilarious. I’m smiling as I write this just thinking about it.

Between writing guidebooks, creating and hosting a TV show and running an influential website, I was a public figure even before I ran for mayor in 2015. Some of you may not have heard of me until I started writing this column, but I’ve been in the public eye for more than a decade. And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people are incredibly cruel on the internet.

My first real experience with this was in December 2009, when the Chronicle did a multi-page spread on me that, called “Holiday Shopping with Broke-Ass Stuart.” If there were 160 comments on that thing, 150 of them were mean. This was during the same time that President Barack Obama was first pushing the Affordable Care Act, and the fluff piece about what holiday gifts I was buying for my friends and family brought out a lot of vitriol.

At first, I was pretty bummed out about it. But after awhile, I thought, “Wow, all those people are thinking about me? I hope they’re playing with themselves while they do it.”

I’ve developed really thick skin over the past decade. I still try not to read the comments sections in my published work. It’s not necessarily about hurt feelings, but more about how disappointed I get in the entire human species. Since people can be anonymous and don’t have to encounter the person they are addressing, they feel free to say whatever nasty and vile things they want. Folks don’t often do this in real life because it goes against the social contract. But goddamn, they let it all out online.

Earlier this week in the Examiner comment section, I saw multiple people condoning the murder of a homeless man by intimating that it’s certainly one way to get rid of the homeless problem. And I bet many of these same people who become monsters online read articles about kids killing themselves because of cyberbullying and think, “That’s just awful.”

No, you’re just awful.

Don’t throw a stone and hide your hand. You don’t get to be a shit-garbling trash heap of a person on the internet and then act as if it has no effect on anything else. Every time you are cruel online, you are making it more acceptable for others to be that way.

We’ve created a culture of cowardly nastiness. Just look at Melania Trump. She tweets about ending cyberbullying while its the foundation of her husband’s presidency. How can she take herself seriously?

The world is tough enough without strangers telling you to kill yourself every time they disagree. I’m used it by now — in fact, I feel like I’m doing something wrong if commenters aren’t mean — but isn’t that a shame that I have to be? If you don’t agree with something you read, write a coherent, educated response. And if that’s too much for you to handle, here’s a new game: Every time you feel the urge to say something nasty to someone online, instead give a compliment to someone who deserves one. Nobody gets to hear all the compliments they deserve.

Now, let’s see what kind of awful things you’re going say in the comments section.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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