Being nasty online

A blog post in the New York Times explores an issue I care about deeply – civility online. It notes,

The other notion discussed in the review is Mr. Lanier’s belief that the “drive-by anonymity” allowed by the Web has led to a mean mob mentality — or as Mr. Tierney calls it, “vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks.” I believe Mr. Lanier is completely right with his theory, but it’s much more than just anonymity that has fostered some of the vitriol that appears on the Web. There’s the immediacy factor — it’s so easy to leave a comment on a blog post without taking a deep breath and collecting your thoughts. And there’s also a much bigger force at work: People don’t realize there is a human being on the other side of online commentary. There is a digital blurring of humanity that takes place on the Web.

One recalls in this respect the submission of David Pogue, the New York Times’ Tech Columnist, a while ago:

The real shame, though, is that the knee-jerk ‘€œeveryone else is an idiot’€ tenor is poisoning the potential the Internet once had. People used to dream of a global village, where maybe we can work out our differences, where direct communication might make us realize that we have a lot in common after all, no matter where we live or what our beliefs.

But instead of finding common ground, we’€™re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away. The Internet is making it easier to attack, not to embrace.

Maybe as the Internet becomes as predominant as air, somebody will realize that online behavior isn’t just an afterthought. Maybe, along with HTML and how to gauge a Web site‒s credibility, schools and colleges will one day realize that there’s something else to teach about the Internet: Civility 101.

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