Little changes may lead to return of manners in online comments

by TOM BENSON

Professor John Hatcher, from the University of Minnesota Duluth, had an opinion piece published last year condemning the anonymity of comments made on the Internet. And I agree with him. While the introduction of the social network, chat rooms, blogs, and even You Tube has given us access to more insight into human culture than any point in our history, it has also given rise to new levels of perversity.

The Internet, although in existence for as long as many of us in this past generation can remember, is still a relatively new form of social communication, with many people still figuring out how it should be capitalized and regulated. And with this grey area that exists with the Internet (namely Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), it offers posters a sense of safety to say whatever they want without fear of serious rebuke.

Or so they think.

In many cases relating to hate speech, libelous comments, and the more recent "cyber bullying", news and social networking sites have been forced by the courts to reveal the identities of these people. But that doesn't mean that because of the threat of being caught exists that people will watch what they say online. Most will, but some won't.

And it's not limited to just a few sites. Anonymous comments have become common on many pages. You don't have to look for them. Go ahead, try not to, you will find them.

What about taking responsibility for your comments though? Are people willing to give up their credibility to have the opportunity to say something that might get them curb stomped outside a bar in rural St. Louis or any other city? Given the choice, not many choose the later anymore. Because when you deal with tradeoffs that involve any form of security, whether it's physical security or simply peace of mind, no matter how imbalanced they appear, people will choose security most (if not all) of the time.

So what do we do?

I really don't know. Stronger regulations will undoubtedly give rise to a number of complaints, crying foul over First Amendment violations. It will happen eventually, but for now why not take baby steps? Instead of "ur" type "you're", or spell "is" correctly (without a "z"). Little changes might spur others to do the same, giving way to proper sentence structure, and maybe even the return of manners.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jour 2101 published on November 28, 2010 9:13 PM.

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