Reflection on “The world is an internet forum.”

Compare the Kitty Genovese / Bystander effect, the dilution of responsibility to act, with the article to which  Mark’s twitter linked :

Colin Horgan wrote (among other interesting comments on deplorable conduct)

But one facet of the internet’s message is that of a re-emerging tribalism. Even a “social” network like Facebook is designed to be exclusive. Everyone’s there, and yet nobody is. When one examines the traits of online forums or comment threads, there is even more fracturing of opinion; opinion, one can’t help but note, that is accepted as valid by virtue of it being there. It’s a symptom of the nature of the online world – one that is endlessly self-selective, tending more toward the validation of one’s own perceptions, rather than consideration of conflicting information.

Obviously, the internet did not cause people to be rude, or to hurl epithets; this is not the first time someone’s been called the N-word in public. What the internet has done is present communal ideas in a way that we’ve rarely, if ever, seen. When everything arrives at once, context is lost, with any and all information being regarded on a level field. That lack of hierarchical information lends unintentional weight to everything, equally.

While the message of every medium that has preceded the internet has altered human perception, never has a medium presented all previous content simultaneously, electronically, at the speed of light. And as McLuhan noted during a speech to the Empire Club of Canada in 1972, “At electric speeds, nobody makes decisions but everybody becomes participant in a complex situation for which he can take no responsibility whatever.”

So, back to the demonstrators shouting at House Democrats as they walked to hear the president speak. There’s no particular way to account for how that kind of vulgarity became commonplace online, because since we all made the decision to accept it at the same time, nobody did.

So how do we enable the children to feel strong enough to act on “If not me, who;  if not now, when?”

Is it enough to teach them about poor Kitty?

What makes the special person who stands against a bully to protect a victim?

Can we ouselves act to spread a culture of courtesy on the tubes?  I fear a world where the gentle people avoid contact with the trolls – if no one says it is trollish, how can the trolls reflect on their actions?

If the trolls see themselves as defending the victim, will they listen?  How do we establish an international multicultural courtesy standard for areas of intense and emotional disagreement?  (Personally, I love the excruciating and frosty  good manners of two academics who despise each other …)

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4 Responses to “Reflection on “The world is an internet forum.””

  1. Mark Pegrum Says:

    The usual ‘wisdom’ (if you accept it as such) goes something like this: “Don’t feed the trolls!”. In other words, don’t react and definitely don’t give them any publicity. Whether that will make trolls reflect, or make the internet a nicer place, I’m not sure – but it may avoid some unnecessary conflagrations!

    • erasmid Says:

      I have noticed this, and I suspect that it has the same flaw as “walking away” when bullying goes on: for the victim, it ends with being expected to “walk away” when the bullies are in the toilet block; for the bystanders, Martin Niemöller’s Poem applies; for the bullies, failure to condemn is seen as proof they are correct.

      Mind you, I am of an unquenchably activist famiy.

  2. Mark Pegrum Says:

    Yes, you’re right about all of the above drawbacks. I suppose it’s a case of judging when and where there may be a more productive alternative to just walking away. One option, certainly, is provided by your troll pic – love it!!! Lol

  3. What do chat-rooms do about trolls? « Erasmid Says:

    […] I stand by my more detailed position in Reflection on “The world is an internet forum.” :  sometimes a more detailed and courteous response is needed, particularly if the apparent troll […]

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