Reflective Essay

To Online, or Not to Online?

I enjoy being online because of all the content there is to consume and discuss that I never would have experienced otherwise. I started playing video games before I was ever a resident of the Internet, but I would not have developed the appreciation I have for the artistic potential of the medium if I had not found communities of other video game fans on social media, first Pokemon in my preteen years and then, starting in late 2015, UnderTale (a game I only found out about in the first place due to how it took the Internet by storm).

Engaging with fandom content has given me opportunities to practice my artistic talents, mainly through music and fanfiction; it’s inspired me to study computer science in college, so I could potentially learn to create my own games; and, it’s helped me connect with a diverse group of fellow fans and creators. I have struggled for most of my life with forging and maintaining friendships. However, I find it much easier to reach out to and regularly converse with people online, especially when it’s so much easier to find people who I can ramble about my passions that way with than it is in-person. And I know I’m far from the only person this applies to.

Beyond all that, being present online has become a necessity in the modern world. Students find most of their sources for essays and other projects on the Internet; jobs require people to communicate via email; and if you’re trying to market yourself, you would be a fool not to have accounts on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, or even better, a personal website/online portfolio – like this one!

In short, even if you want to limit your presence online to a minimum, it’s just not practical to cut yourself off entirely. So the question becomes, how do you make the most of it?

Look Twice Before Sharing the Post

A lot of people use the Internet as a source of information. We Google things we don’t know on-the-spot, we skim Wikipedia pages, and we read articles on hot topics or outlandish occurrences. With the sheer volume of data accessible with just a click, having an expeditious way to verify a post’s validity is more important than ever. As part of this class, we learned a methodology for doing just that, known as SIFT. Coined by Mike Caulfield, head of the Digital Polarization Initiative, the steps are as follows:

  • Stop and ask yourself if you trust what you’re reading before sharing it around
  • Investigate the source you’re currently reading from (one quick trick for which is looking it up on Wikipedia)…
  • or, if you care more about checking the truth of the root claim than evaluating this specific source, Find other coverage of the topic
  • Trace quotes, statistics, and other media back to where they originated from

I went through multiple tests trials of this method for a previous assignment and found it very effective, even though I sometimes had to switch strategies to get the information I wanted. In general, you want to be on the lookout for sites/organizations that have significant biases and a negative reputation, or nothing reputable about them at all. If a story has a clickbaity headline and is only reported on by a few smaller publications, it is likely falsified, or at least exaggerated. That’s not to say that the largest, oldest, and most well-known news organizations are always right; to be sure of the truth, you should try to go all the way back to the original source of the claim, verify that, and look for further context.

Being a Productive Digital Citizen

While the Internet can serve as a tool for finding information, keeping up with the news, buying books or whatever else from Amazon, etc., for many people it is also a source of community. There are some sites you merely visit, and some which you might consider yourself a resident of.1

I already brought up some of my general experiences as a resident of social media to explain why I enjoy being online. However, when first joining an online community, it is easy to fall into a bad crowd or find yourself the victim of trolls and other antagonistic folks. Many fandoms garner negative reputations because of their cruelest or most “cringy” members, UnderTale’s included.

If you want your experience in an online community to be pleasant and productive, you have to regulate your own experience. Use the tools provided by the platforms you join, like filtering tags and blocking accounts, to keep yourself from interacting with content and users that will ruin your experience. Find and befriend people who share not only your interests but also your values. Be someone who adds to discussions and lifts up the voices of others.

If you have moderation powers in your community, you should still look to the judgment of others to know when, where, and how you should use them. Make it a space that people feel welcome to participate in. That doesn’t mean tolerating everything people say and do; as Jennifer Peepas discusses in her article “Why Captain Awkward Wanted a Different Kind of Comments”, curation is necessary to eliminate speech that does nothing but degrade others, and to keep debates from spiraling into toxic spitting contests. It’s a tricky, muddled, but essential balance to strike.

I always get annoyed when I see people flippantly say, usually in response to being asked to put content warnings on their posts, that “this is the Internet”. To these people, asking for such content to be tagged in a way that lets those it might hurt avoid it is an admission of weakness. The Internet contains anything and everything under the sun, and a lot of that stuff is crass, gross, offensive, explicit, or otherwise harmful. So, by their logic, you should always be prepared for the potential to see such things, or else log off altogether if you can’t handle the thought of it.

My argument is this: the Internet is not an unholy manifestation of the worst of humanity, an entity unto itself that formed out of nothing and is impossible for us mere mortals to grapple with. The Internet was built and is continuously shaped by human beings. It doesn’t have to be the way it is now. If we all cooperated on marking potentially triggering content as such and keeping it out of spaces where it can cause damage, then people wouldn’t have to be fearful of their boundaries being breached while making use of our species’ greatest achievement.

The Internet exists to serve us, all of us. And it is up to its casual users as much as its developers to ensure it fulfills its job.

Works Cited

Caulfield, Mike. “Introducing SIFT.” Check, Please! Starter Course, Notion,

White, David. “Visitors and Residents.” YouTube, University of Oxford, 10 Mar. 2014,

Peepas, Jennifer. “Why Captain Awkward Wanted A Different Kind Of Comments.” The Coral Project Guides, Vox Media, 26 July 2017,

  1. White 2014

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