Column: The good, the bad and the ugly of the online world

The internet giveth and the internet taketh away.

Most often, it’s a pretty straightforward exchange of knowledge (both useful and inane) in return for hours and hours of your life.

But sometimes it’s a bit more insidious than that.

I thank my lucky stars that my teenage years were well behind me before I ever heard the word internet or found myself caught up in the sticky fibrils of the world wide web.

In addition to being a boundless source of information — some bits, admittedly, more grounded in fact than others — it has also become a breeding ground for unfettered cruelty.

Take last week’s example of a Newfoundland teen who was shocked, no doubt, to discover that an online vote had been conducted by a group of strangers and she’d been determined to be among the ‘ugliest girls in Grade 12.’

To her credit, the young woman responded with poise and demonstrated  a level of class that her detractors can only ever dream of achieving.

“I’m sorry that your life is so miserable that you have to try to bring others down,” she wrote to them on Facebook.

Good for her.

And, for the record, there doesn’t appear to be anything ugly about her — inside or out.

But you’ve got to wonder what is to be gained by ripping into a total stranger like that.

Perhaps it is, as she says, just a way of trying to build yourself up by tearing others down.

No sense in trying to find logic in that premise, because like much to do with human nature, there is none to be found.

It would be great to think that these attacks are rare, but there are, in fact, entire websites dedicated to trash talk and name calling.

And they don’t just target celebrities — for whom it, unfortunately, seems to be part of the job nowadays — but average, everyday people.

Kids who know one another personally say enough terrible things to one another’s faces, or behind each others’ backs. Add the buffer of a computer, connecting people across miles of geography, ensuring they’ll never meet their victim face-to-face,  and all bets are off.

As a 40-something adult, I couldn’t care less what a stranger thinks about me. But I can’t imagine what that kind of nastiness would have done to my fragile teenage psyche.

The sad truth is, it’s not just teenagers who engage in this type of behaviour.

Not too long ago, I made the mistake of sharing what I thought was a humorous take on some topic or other, being discussed online.

It took only seconds for another adult (I presume) with whom I’d never had any previous contact to flame me.

A short while later, someone else jumped to defend me, shooting a few poison daggers of her own at my critic.

I don’t know what happened after that because, by then, I was long gone — probably quizzing myself on Sporcle or looking up a new recipe for Brussels sprouts or something.

It’s a sad fact that the web contains no shortage of dark corners where trolls lurk, waiting to unleash their vitriol on unsuspecting strangers.

Luckily, if you don’t have the strength (or feel the urge) to face them down, all it takes to shut them up — or at least out — is a few quick keystrokes or clicks of a mouse. When it comes to the internet, there are always literally millions of better places to be.