In our real, physical lives, we accept that people close to us change their minds and suffer bad moods—but in the virtual world, we’re much less likely to accept this kind of natural inconsistency. We hold others to rigid standards of behavior and are much less forgiving. In virtual space, this double standard is particularly compelling. If you behave badly, it’s because you’re a troll, and your mother and her mother before you, back a thousand generations. These feelings are not logical, but such is the nature of virtual relationships.

Lacking emotional depth, we substitute brittle, intellectual standards. Forgiveness is a word lacking in the digital vocabulary.

How do we cope with that rigid double standard in the virtual world?  And can we all take a deep breath and try to relax the double standard just a bit? For the sake of our sanity? And yes, even for the sake of all those trolls out there. But especially for the sake of children who suffer enormously from online bullying and need our help.

Underlying our struggles with these online issues is the fundamental one of control—of what is said about us and others online. We can understand this loss of control whenever our own digital lives are concerned, but we have a hard time extending the same digital flexibility to others.  In short, our standards are very high online—when it comes to everyone else.

If the design team delivers late once, we don’t find the behavior understandable, because we’re unaware or dismissive of the brutal cold snap that made travel tough and work difficult for a week. The team members’ jokes about the weather fall flat on the rest of the team, which is based in a warmer climate. It just sounds as if they’re suddenly not taking this important project seriously enough.

What does this unconscious double standard do to communication within a team or an organization? Why does this desire for others to play by our rigid rules make it much harder for us to be forgiving of normal human failings in the digital environment? Why do we all risk becoming inhuman caricatures of ourselves online?

We need to develop a personal rule book for online communication to save much misunderstanding, miscommunication, and heartache. For ourselves, thinking of the other members of our team, the people in our company, our customers, stakeholders, the public—all the people we might have to interact with—we need to become rigorously consistent or expect that at some point our inconsistencies will be pointed out to us bluntly and unforgivingly.

And for all of us, let’s realize that we do have a double standard. Let’s remember the Golden Rule. Let’s stop judging others quite so harshly. And let’s put the human emotions of understanding, acceptance, and charity back into the online world.


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