Rude internet users are making you stupid

Google without the middleman
If Google was designed by forum commenters...

It turns out that online aggression isn't just a complete waste of time, electricity and bandwidth: it's bad for you, too.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, people who witness rudeness in the workplace suffer from reduced "performance on routine tasks as well as creative tasks."

Of course, you'd expect the victims of rudeness to suffer, but it seems that just seeing it happen has a negative effect.

That's bad news for anyone with an internet connection, because of course rudeness is everybody's default setting when they go online; in fact, we're surprised that the Google home page doesn't cut out the middleman and just display YOU SUCK instead of the Google logo. It'd save everyone a great deal of time.

If you run a blog, or comment on social sites such as Digg, you'll be all too familiar with people making allegations about your parentage, your mental capacity or the size of your genitals, and if you post something relatively innocuous - such as daring to suggest that ten million quid for a MacBook Unicorn is a tad pricey, or that Star Wars was crap and that all Emo music is rubbish - you'll quickly be inundated with hate mail, death threats and messages that appear to come from The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy in a particularly foul mood.

The more of these you read, the more stupid you'll become.

Create a no-rudeness zone

According to internet psychologist Graham Jones, the answer is to make your own bit of the internet a no-rudeness zone.

Sadly that doesn't involve going around the internet and punching everyone who's nasty to you, as tempting as that may be.

Jones' suggestions are considerably less satisfying, but they're probably more effective. He suggests that bloggers should have a zero-tolerance policy towards nasty comments (whether they're directed at you or at other commenters), that Twitter users should unfollow rude people, and that you should "make sure you are not rude yourself" because of course, rudeness breeds rudeness.

Remember, this isn't just about politeness: as Jones argues, "witnessing rudeness… has a negative effect on your own performance."

Is Jones right? Quite possibly - which means he should be very, very scared.

As Douglas Adams wrote in the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Jones' message is quite an old one: around two thousand years ago, another man was going around "saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change" - and that man ended up nailed to a tree.


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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.