Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By An Phương
“Not everyone is an artist, but everyone is a critic.”
I reblog this quote or ones with a similar meaning to my personal Tumblr account every time I feel attacked by a random Internet fellow.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Tumblr is a social networking platform based on genuine respect, at least in my humble experience.
Of course, I’m not here praising Tumblr for being a healthy platform but discussing one of the most relevant topics of today’s society, “criticism culture”.
With the introduction of the Internet, followed by “keyboard warriors”, defined as those who behave aggressively online but are too shy to do the same face-to-face, criticism culture seems to be a predictable result.
“I’m familiar with the concept of keyboard warrior. In fact, I was once a serious 'warrior' defending my K-pop idol,” Ái Thương, 22, told Việt Nam News.
“I decided to jump on that thread about a year ago when I saw my idol being negatively discussed on a random Facebook group. The conversation started out low-key but escalated quickly with the 'help' of other keyboard warriors,” she said.
“I respected everyone’s opinions, but what I read about my idol and how myself, even my family, was mocked triggered that button in me. I couldn’t feel anymore and it was toxic!” Thương added.
In addition to Thương, I had this conversation with four other friends, who all, for various reasons, understand how hurtful it can be for anyone to receive meaningless and destructive comments. They strongly oppose criticism culture.
“Sending random comments on the Internet might seem harmless, considering that no physical harm would happen in case things get worse, but the feelings are real,” Tuấn Anh, 22, Thương’s boyfriend, said.
“When I saw Thương struggle with insults and false accusations from keyboard warriors who do not know her in real life, I was in a rage,” he said.
“Though I usually read back and forth comments among keyboard warriors on certain topics and honestly find them entertaining, it never hit me until my beloved was involved in a real case,” Anh said, adding that Thương was trying to be straight about her idol without insulting anyone.
I feel for Thương because I’ve been in the same place. As a YouTuber for about three years, I sometimes receive feedback that hurts my feelings.
As I’ve prepped myself since the very first video that “haters gonna hate”, I don’t mind if they judge me for my gap between my teeth, my speech or how “boyish” I am.
However, when it comes to my content, I hate it when viewers deliberately misunderstand my content and judge my personal views of the world via their lens.
“People choose what they want to listen to and base their judgment on that selective attention,” said my fellow YouTuber, who didn’t want to be named.
“I’m surprised when many people still hold on to the old-school perception that the online world is something separate from the real world,” he added.
I couldn’t agree more.
These days, just register to be a member of a random gossip group on Facebook, and you can fully experience criticism culture.
My friends and I have seen more than one young person argue that freedom of speech allows them to speak up for themselves.
“It’s cool to express our opinion. It’s cool to agree to disagree. But it’s totally not cool to use freedom of speech as an excuse for cyberbullying other people,” my friend Quang Minh, 28, said.
According to Minh, freedom of speech and kindness should go hand in hand.
“This is to benefit all parties for the better good! Everyone can have comments, and should, in fact, welcome criticism, but they should be constructive ones,” he said.
During the course of my YouTube career, I have been lucky enough to receive many constructive comments.
To be honest, it’s not pleasant digesting constructive criticism in the first place. However, as I have often told myself, they must care enough to let me know what I should improve, and it’s kind of them to do so. So, I started embracing their feedback.
“In the end, we should spend time on things that matter in our real life and not waste time on boosting our selfish egos,” Minh said.
Quang Anh, Minh’s younger brother, added that winning an online fight could be fun, but it’s wrong insulting others, and people are actually degrading themselves by doing so.
After our discussion on what’s wrong with criticism culture, my friends and I appreciated on some level that cybersecurity laws exist to contribute to a safe, healthy online space and protect people in need.
All in all, I believe that we, as human beings, have a tendency to remember stuff that triggers negative emotions.
Hurtful words, either spoken out loud or written down, are hurtful. Don’t hurt other people, I must emphasise. VNS