Schwartz: On hate mail

Alex Schwartz, Assistant Opinion Editor

As an opinion writer, I’m fully aware that people who read my columns are not in any way obligated to agree with them. That’s kind of the point of this desk: Through voicing our own opinions, we columnists tend to compel others to voice theirs in return. Still, it’s easy to feel dejected when I receive an anonymous, unpunctuated email calling me a fascist or a vague Facebook comment that just says “bad” in response to one of my columns.

Hate mail and comments don’t bother me because they’re mean or offensive; they bother me because they’re unproductive. When someone responds rudely to a balanced and respectful column, they lower the level of debate I intended to set.

In no way am I trying to discourage people from writing respectful comments that disagree with my ideas. I don’t intend for my columns to exist in an echo chamber, and I welcome critical responses as a necessary component of informed debate. But what is the point of sending me a nasty Facebook comment that adds no new ideas to the conversation?

That said, people like me who intentionally voice their opinions, especially on the internet, shouldn’t expect to publish anything without receiving insulting responses. There will always be hate mail, and I’ve had to learn to address it.

I remind myself that a response that does not contribute anything of value should not be given much weight. If someone isn’t confident or passionate enough about their own ideas to write a balanced, thought-out response to my balanced, thought-out column, why should I validate their statement in the conversation I’m trying to start?

I don’t reject these comments blindly upon detecting the slightest ounce of negativity. At first, I try to disconnect tone from content. I think to myself, “Is this person trying to introduce new ideas, or are they just trying to negate mine?” Though commenters aren’t always respectful, they could have a point, and I am cognizant of that.

People tell me to just ignore the responses I get, saying I shouldn’t care what other people think. But I do care, not necessarily because of my own feelings, but because I want to have a meaningful debate. I don’t want to write into a void, but I don’t want to write into a cesspool of negativity either.

Herein lies my problem with hate mail and, in a larger context, hate speech: not only is it incredibly offensive, but it fails to add valid, fact-based ideas that are enriching to a debate. Hate speech is purposefully destructive to individuals and the larger cultural narrative. We shouldn’t tolerate it, we shouldn’t perpetuate it and we shouldn’t force ourselves to engage with it.

I want to foster a constructive conversation, whether it be in a string of Facebook comments, email responses or in person on campus. Hate mail is a derailment of that conversation — it isn’t good for whomever writes it, and it isn’t good for whomever is affected by it.

So, the next time you comment on a column, article or really anything online, think hard about what you’re saying. Think not only about how the person you’re talking to will feel when they read it, but whether you’re really adding something to the conversation.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.