Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Be Nice To The People You Meet On The Internet

Because they might track you down and kick the snot out of you:
Last October, in what The Times of London described as "Britain's first 'Web rage' attack," a 47-year-old Londoner was convicted of assault on a man with whom he had traded insults in a chat room. He and a friend tracked down the man and attacked him with a pickax handle and a knife.

I can see how that might be a disincentive to flame.

It strikes me, though, that the "online disinhibition effect", as the article has it, might, at times, be a good thing. In essence, they are saying that people are typing things out that they might not say aloud and sending them to the Internet. There are problems with this, as above, but surely it just means that in a new mode of social interaction previous form counts for very little.

It's not the one with the loudest voice or biggest presence that's calling the shots. That is, people who've not had to put up with other people's opinions before are getting frustrated because no-one cares about what they have to say. It's not that the playing field has levelled, the playing field has been changed completely.

One of the suggestions to, er, reinhibit people is to introduce video. Bringing back the old playing field, in effect. On the 'Net when you're just text you look like everybody else, people judge you not on your looks or charisma or whatever, but on the way you write and the way you reason. Put that writer on video and it's not just the message that the medium is passing on.

Flaming is always going to be a part of the Internet, the written parts especially, and a good flame can be good writing too. It's often to Internet discourse what raising your voice is to a pub chat. There are some figures on Usenet who exist just to flame and you can probably find some veteran out there who'll tell you of the great flamewar of alt.*.* in 199*. They'll no doubt tell you or their part in it too. You can look a lot of this stuff up on Google now, it was neither as acrimonious nor as long as the grey-beard thought it was with most of the posts in that particular thread being a seperate argument on the proper recipe for Chili (or something equally unanswerable and, dare it be said, petty), but anyway...
Flaming can be induced in some people with alarming ease. Consider an experiment, reported in 2002 in The Journal of Language and Social Psychology, in which pairs of college students — strangers — were put in separate booths to get to know each other better by exchanging messages in a simulated online chat room.

While coming and going into the lab, the students were well behaved. But the experimenter was stunned to see the messages many of the students sent. About 20 percent of the e-mail conversations immediately became outrageously lewd or simply rude.

I'm not sure what they're expecting here, but most of my conversations with friends have a tendency to get lewd or rude at some point, I can't see what it should be shocking that this happens when anonimity is brought in to the equation too.

There are many things that the Internet is and isn't and certain areas of it aren't good for the faint of heart or the easily upset or those prone to anger when no-one cares what they have to say. It's meant as a resource for everybody but that doesn't mean that it can or even should please all the people all the time.

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