On February 15, 2016, Stephen Fry left Twitter. It’s not the first time he’s done so, but it may well be the last. This time, the trigger was largely a joke he made at the BAFTAs about a friend, which resulted in the usual stream of bile being hosed in his direction from righteous keyboard warriors.

I don’t doubt some of them had a point. But I also don’t doubt many of them — probably the vast majority — didn’t think before they typed. Perhaps their comment was a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe they thought it was funny to have a go at a celebrity. In all likelihood, though, distance from another human emboldened them, and with the pile-on continuing, Fry decided enough was enough.

Later, Fry outlined on his blog his reasoning for quitting. He likened early Twitter to a kind of idyllic glade of sunshine and roses, which has now become a stagnant cesspool. Neither description is entirely accurate, of course. Early Twitter had its fair share of nastiness, and current Twitter in many ways remains amazing.

But even I as a niche tech journo, reasonably well known only in certain very specific fields, have felt the way in which online communications have changed. The ferocity of negative online comments on articles I’ve written has increased, as has hand-waving “I don’t believe you” idiocy, not least when I write about accessibility. I am, somehow, both an Apple zealot and an Apple hater. On Twitter, I occasionally get random horrible comments, which markedly increase in number whenever I dare to reply to one of the feminist writers and developers I occasionally converse with. Now and again, I even find horrible comments lurking in the approval queue on this blog, which has literally several regular readers.

For celebrities and other far more followed commentators who dare to allow the public some measure of access to them, it’s hard to imagine what they go through on a daily basis. I’ve assisted some over the years, when they openly asked for tech help. Their feeds were immediately packed full of dumb comments along the lines of: “APPLE IS RUBISH YOU IDIOT ISHEEP YOU SHOUD BUY ANDROID LOL”. Literally hundreds of tweets almost instantaneously appearing with the same ‘joke’. It’s astonishing anyone in such a situation manages to sort genuine communications from the noise. And it made me wonder why anyone would put up with this kind of thing for any length of time.

Clearly, for many, the positives outweigh the negatives. I see people with varying degrees and kinds of fame generously offering a little more of themselves, even as they’re in a spotlight that results in them being followed by a mob that can turn on a dime. I used to be slightly envious of such numbers. Not so much now. I’m grateful for the people who read my words, but in no hurry to end up in a position where I’m deluged by angry responses to everything I might share online.

But if I may, I would like to make one suggestion: that we all pause a little, far more often. As that great xkcd cartoon noted, there’s that sense people are all too keen to spend their time righting perceived wrongs online. The screen is little more than a shield, and anonymity too often a weapon. So whether you’re about to respond to someone online with millions of Twitter followers or just ten, or someone on Facebook you’ve never heard of, ask yourself whether you really need to. And if you do, ask yourself if what you’re typing is something you’d be willing to say face-to-face. And even if that’s the case, ask yourself if you’re being spiteful, cruel or unfriendly and whether it’s really necessary that we have any more of that kind of thing in the world.