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...the Internet — and the anonymity it affords — has given a public stage to people’s basest thoughts, ones that in earlier eras likely never would have traveled past the watercooler, the kitchen table or the next barstool.
Such incidents — and there are countless across cyberspace — also raise the question: Is there anything to be done about it? Or is a decline in civil discourse simply the price that we pay for the advance of technology?
By posting in a popular forum on commenting on a popular blog, the old stall-writer now has a worldwide audience.
joined:Oct 27, 2001
Not to over-simplify, but Google is a big part of the change.
For that matter, so is Webmaster World. :-)
Hmmm, you won't find much nasty talk here. There's an overall cultural issue at work, too - civility seems to be declining. Instead of disagreeing with the opinions or policies of an elected official or political candidate, now it seems to be necessary to attack the person himself/herself.
Many individuals seem to carry this societal trend into their online posting. They can't just disagree with someone, they have to point out what a moron the other person is. In communities that try and limit such behavior, it creates plenty of extra work for moderators.
After requiring email validation (basically validating an actual identity), users are overall less rude, from what I have observed over the years.
So yes, I think an anonymous forum can be a breeding ground for problems... folks say the darndest things when they think no one can track it back to them.
we need freedom. What we consider "shocking" language is philosophically useful. Many people once considerd the very idea of an earth that rotates around the sun to be shocking. To even express the idea would get you put in jail. We should never yearn for days like this again but they are coming.
When was the last time you heard someone mention their natural rights?
Similarly, forum operators develop community standards and try to help members conform to them.
Many of the conflict problems I've seen in communities come from these kinds of cultural differences. One member, for example, might post in language that is considered to be extremely rude or obscene by other members. While in some cases the language may be a deliberate choice to shock or insult others, in many cases it is simply the way that person is used to posting in other communities.
1) I don't believe overall civility is declining: that's very much a cheap newspaper scare tactic. Those same papers (or blogs, or whatever) would have us believe that all teenagers will rise up and kill us all tomorrow (or become parents and bank managers, actually).
2) There is plenty of peer-reviewed research that shows that anonymity DOES increase incivility/rudeness; it seems to be built into the human wetware.
Generally there is a balance in each medium between accountability and desirable anonymity. That optimal balance will be different in WW, P-W, a newspaper, a generic non-tech forum, a political forum, a courtroom, etc.
People do adapt to expectations, though. In many environments (church, libraries, fine restaurants, corporate offices, to name a few) most people conform to the behavior expected in those environments. Online environments aren't dissimilar, but when a user can register anonymously and post it's much more difficult to enforce those expectations and seemingly less motivation to control one's own behavior.
I'd guess a community that had a $1000 registration fee would have fewer difficulties in maintaining civility than one where anyone with a hotmail address can sign up for free. (I haven't yet found the community opportunity that justifies that kind of signup fee, unfortunately!)
O'Reilly drew an analogy to talk radio, saying that while some of it is filled with hateful comments, other shows, like "Talk of the Nation" on National Public Radio, maintain a culture of civility. If someone tried making vitriolic comments there, he said, "they'd be cut off."