Hang around on the internet long enough, and you’re sure to offend somebody.
All it takes is sharing an opinion or making any kind of statement that a second party perceives to be blanket or in any way generalised, and they will take offense. It might be because you’ve made a joke or a silly remark. Maybe you behaved just a fraction out of character. The reason why doesn’t matter. You could write a thousand pure gold tweets in a row, but if tweet one-thousand-and-one is a tiny bit off, that guy is out there waiting to tell you that you screwed up.
You can basically guarantee that even if what you’ve said is completely innocent, insightful or funny to 99.99% of people, somebody will object.
In fact, the more normal your statement is, the more likely you’ll find yourself fending off some crazy who breaks Godwin’s Law before he’s halfway through his second response.
Most of the time, these people don’t know you. They’re making a judgement call on that item alone – they just happened to notice then. We all have people who follow us on Twitter who clearly never pay even the slightest bit of attention to the things we tweet about. Or believe in. Or how we really feel about the subject at hand.
It’s ironic that it’s often these same people who are the first to jump down our throats when we say something to which they take immediate offense. There’s no attempt to evaluate where this statement fits within our history. It’s simply: I am offended. What are you going to do about it?
Worst still are the people who silently unfollow you. Yeah, that told me. If I’ve offended you, I’d much rather you let me know. Otherwise, not only am I incapable of being able to do anything about it, but I’m likely to remain completely oblivious, too. I’d rather have the opportunity to explain my position, especially if there’s a chance it’s a misunderstanding or if I unknowingly (and genuinely) put my foot in it.
Here’s the thing: sometimes you will say and do stupid things. Very occasionally, you may well cause offense to a lot of people. And most of the time, you know when you’ve done this. You know when you’ve said something really awful, even if it’s by mistake. This recognition is important, and because of it you can initiate the steps to repair the damage.
Otherwise, a lot of the time when one person tells you that you have offended them – especially if that person is a total stranger – you probably haven’t done anything wrong. At worst, you’ve made a really, really minor error. Somewhere between a faux pas and a goof.
And again, just as you know when you’ve done something stupid, you know when you haven’t. Don’t be a jerk about it, but if you’re in the right, and you know you’re in the right, let the offendee have their rant and then move on. Let’s call it offensive defense.
After all, as they say: if you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
PS. The flip side of this is worth a note, too. If you have taken offense to the contents of a tweet, take a moment to read through the person’s recent timeline to make sure things are how they seem. Consider also your history and relationship with that person. Where does this tweet fit? Is there a chance it’s a joke? Or a misunderstanding? We can’t possibly all agree on everything, but a little social compromise and benefit of the doubt goes a long way.