How Anonymity Kills Empathy (The Naked Writing Project Guest Post)

The past few weeks have been an epic example of how the anonymity of the internet can erase the empathy that makes us human.

We saw a mom be questioned whether she was fit to raise children because her precocious preschooler got away from her at the zoo. She literally had to face the fear that she would lose her right to be a mom because the world was outraged that she lost sight of her child for a minute (and really what mom hasn’t blinked and had her kid on the other side of store wreaking havoc). Or how every post in my news feed seems to be filled with politics that have scathing comments that are so very cruel to one another for having different belief systems.

And in the midst of all of this sensationalism on social this week, I had a personal first – being in the national news in my industry. To be honest, I had always hoped that someday I could do something big enough in my career where I could make it into an industry publication. But I knew that the risk of this is also to be exposed to some of the best writers in the world (after all they create ads for a living) to comment on whether I am worthy to be written about. As you can imagine, some of the comments were tough to swallow. I learned that I am not qualified enough and that I was at a “minion” status. But the thing I struggled with the most is that the people who wrote comments have no name, face or accountability for the hurtful or even blatantly false things that they wrote. They have no remorse for damaging reputations (without any proof) or making a comment that cuts to the core and makes you doubt yourself.

I grew up fearful, always wondering if that person talking across the room was really talking about me. I cared too much about what others thought of me and I allowed anxiety and an eating disorder creep into my world as a young teenager. I can’t imagine navigating high school with social media today. I am thankful that during those formative years I had some strong role models step into my life and help me build confidence to try new things and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

So I ask myself now, what is my role in helping to step into this world of insecurity that we call social media and to stand up against the anonymous comments that tear down? How will I communicate with the same empathy from behind a screen as I do face-to-face? How will I equip my daughter to handle the haters in the digital space that will tear down her self-worth as she is trying to find herself? How will my “like” support other women when motherhood is daunting and feels impossible at times? How can my comment empower others to break through the glass ceiling and be moms, wives and working women at the same time?

My goal for the next time I feel the urge to post, comment or like, is to remember to first always be kind and ask, what would I say to this person if I was looking them in the eyes?

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My name is Kari Shimmel. I am a wife, mother, friend, traveler and ad girl. I share stories about travel, parenting and advertising adventures on my blog at upupandaways.com.

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