The moniker “keyboard warrior” is generally regarded as an insult on the internet–one associated with angry nerds vehemently shouting their opinions into the void. It’s also associated with those who argue for things like wearing masks during a pandemic or social justice. The keyboard warrior, in this context, is portrayed as a weak coward, hiding behind a screen, afraid to stand up to people “in real life.”
I get it. The internet gives you anonymity (to an extent), and because someone is not physically in front of you, it’s easier to speak your mind. This has been true for a few decades of internet use now, but the way in which we use the internet has changed drastically. What is real life? Why don’t you consider your online life to be “real”? Hell, most of my job lives on the internet, and people spend several hours every day “connecting” to others via social media, YouTube, etc.
It seems pretty clear to me that the internet is real life.
So, if the internet is a very real part of your life, I contend that it’s a very important source of information–a place where you learn, form opinions, and grow as a person. Because of this, a new age of digital heroes is just dawning. The noble keyboard warrior has real power to influence people, confront injustice, and actually drive change.
To be clear, I’m not talking about trolls–the people that spit vitriol and hate all over the comment sections of videos, blogs, and product reviews. I’m talking about the people that take real time to research and understand an issue, then make it a point to share that information with others. Keyboard warriors need to be respectful, but relentless, and it’s the warrior’s job to fight against the wrongs in the world on this online battlefield.
Let’s use the pandemic as an example. A bunch of misinformed, overly politicized trolls have spread a ton of bad info regarding wearing masks. They’ve made it a partisan thing and have thus encouraged throngs of trusting people not to wear a simple mask when they go out. This, along with a bunch of other misinformation and lack of caution about Covid-19, has caused a near complete failure to contain the virus here in the USA, killing hundreds of thousands of people that could have otherwise lived.
To combat this, noble keyboard warriors have taken up the call to spread a better, more scientifically accurate message. Some of them are funny, with only light shaming:
Some of them are informative (if direct), like this Twitter post.
Some of them are attempting to shame non mask wearers with common sense and humor:
These keyboard warriors are providing a valuable service. They’re combatting bad science with a clear, straightforward message. In this case, the message is: “wear a mask–it’s not just for you, but for everyone around you.”
Like the Force, however, there is also a dark side to all of this. In the example above, you have misinformed and/or willfully ignorant people spreading things like “wearing a mask kills people because they suffocate!” This is simply not true (and can be easily disproven by speaking to any nurse who generally wears a mask all day, every day) as long as you’re wearing a properly made mask correctly.
Without the noble keyboard warrior, misinformation would be met with no opposition–no one to call out those actually attempting nefarious deeds or those who are simply misinformed. We need keyboard warriors because so much of our lives takes place in the online realm, and it’s so very easy to ignore news or even science that goes against your pre-established worldview. We need people to stand up and speak out, even if it pisses off that racist uncle or your old friend from middle school.
Debate and disagreement are critical to any functioning democracy because no one, regardless of political label, is infallible. Everyone is wrong at some point in their lives, and no one has perfect empathy. Without discussion and an attempt to understand the perspectives of those that disagree with you, you’re not getting a complete picture of reality. So, speak up!
Some words from Gandhi: “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
For my part, I try to live by a relatively simple code:
- Research everything. Its not doing anyone any good if I call you out without having done any research to back up my claims.
- Be firm, but polite.
- Admit when you are wrong. This is important: everyone is wrong sometimes. You. Me. Everyone. Own it and even apologize if appropriate.
- Do not shy away from controversy. Embrace it, explore it, and explain your position. Try to understand the opposition.
- Encourage others to not only speak up, but disagree with you. You’re not going to learn anything if you don’t fully understand where other people are coming from.
- Always give people the benefit of the doubt. Try to keep it in mind that people, in general, aren’t trying to be villains and are acting in accordance to what they believe is right. This doesn’t mean they’re right, but teaching people is the goal–not lambasting them.
And, always remember . . .