New York Times: “Whatever Happened to Online Etiquette?”

David Pogue writes on technology for The New York Times, and we sure feel his pain in this post today…

I’m OK with criticism, I’m fine with disagreement, I’m perfectly capable of handling angry mail… I’ve even accepted personal attacks as part of the job. I’m a columnist; the heat comes with the kitchen.

But what’s really stunning is how hostile *ordinary* people are to each other online these days…

What’s worse is that the concentration of the nasty people increases as the civil ones get fed up and leave.

What’s going on here?

My current theories:

* On the Internet, you’re anonymous. Since you don’t have to face the person you’re dumping on, you don’t see any reason to display courtesy.

* On the Internet, you’re anonymous. You worry that your comments might get lost in the shuffle, so you lay it on thick to enhance your noticeability.

* The open toxicity is all part of the political climate. We’ve learned from the Red state-Blue state talking heads that open hostility can pass for meaningful conversation.

* Young people who spend lots of time online are, in essence, replacing in-person social interactions with these online exchanges. With so much less experience conversing in the real world, they haven’t picked up on the value of treating people civilly…

* Many parents haven’t been teaching social skills (or haven’t been around to teach them) for years, but Web 2.0 is suddenly making it apparent for the first time. (”Web 2.0″ describes sites like Digg and Slashdot, where the audience itself provides material for the Web site…)

The real shame, though, is that the kneejerk “everyone else is an idiot” tenor is poisoning the potential the Internet once had…

[I]nstead of finding common ground, we’re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away…

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.

29 thoughts on “New York Times: “Whatever Happened to Online Etiquette?”

  1. I, too, bemoan the apparent lack of courtesy on the internet. Perhaps you think I’ve been discourteous to you in some of my many comments. If so, I apologize.

    I notice that you file this post under “Debate on the Issues.” It’s hard for me to believe that you consider the lack of ettiquitte and courtesy in the comments of your opponents to be of central importance when you consider the credentials of your sources to be of peripheral importance. As of right now, though I’ve asked no you no less than six times, I have no idea where Dr. Skinner went to school or what kind of reputation he enjoys amonst his peers. How can this be central while that is peripheral?

    Also, I’d like to bring your attention to the following: on September 12, you wrote a response to Aaron Archambeault. Mr. Archambeault was discussing a man who blamed pornograpy for the fact that he is a child rapist and murderer. Mr. Archambeault thought that the man was copping out: he couldn’t blame himself for his horrible actions, so be blamed porno. Here is a portion of your response:

    “I guess Mr. Archambeault (who gives no credentials) just has superior insight into these matters than Dr. Cline, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has treated hundreds of sex addicts, sex offenders, and other individuals with sexual illnesses. Never mind that Dr. Cline’s findings concur with those of other researchers and those who work with sex offenders, such as Judith Reisman, psychologists at The University of British Columbia, Rory Reid, Robert Jensen and others.”

    Your response is merely to attack Mr. Archambeault for not having an advanced degree. It’s also hard to imagine a snottier tone: “I guess Mr. Archambeault just has superior insight…” To me, it sounds like a fifth-grade recess schoolyard taunt.

    It cuts both ways, NPN. You’re not the only victims of discourtesy. This post and the lack of courtesy it contained was what motivated me to start posting my views on your website. If you’re going to start preaching about ettiquitte, I can think of a few people you ought to apologize to.

  2. Yes, it is certainly unpleasant to be called names by people and get accused of being something you’re not.

    It’s made worse when the name callers refuse to apologize.

  3. Adam,

    You don’t particularly deserve a ton of civility. Let’s look at your track record: you’ve published people’s names and addresses and maps to their houses when you didn’t particularly need to. You’ve just recently slandered and falsely accused private citizens. Heck, you’ve not-so-subtly accused people of murder. You want to impose your personal morality, your tastes, and your entire view of sexuality upon an entire town’s worth of people, and you’re hiding behind an anti-porn stance to do so.

    And you are, in fact, hiding behind it; if this porn store was going to be located near Smith College, across the town from King St., I’m convinced we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, because it wouldn’t be affecting your housing values. That’s truly your issue, right? Start the argument where it starts — you don’t want a disgusting porn store lowering the value of your house. That’s fine. That’s *valid*. And pornography is icky stuff, no doubt; people would agree with you wholeheartedly, politely, happily.

    But you’ve muddied the waters of discourse to a *fantastic* degree. You’ve written insulting, hurtful and untrue things about real people. And you write in a long-winded, pedantic and incredibly condescending manner. That’s what people are reacting to.

    And don’t even get started pretending about open discussion. You only post the comments on your website that you personally approve. This stacks the deck entirely in your favor; if someone has a comment that you don’t “approve” of, you simply don’t post it. This is not honest discourse. This is propaganda, and it is your rhetorical specialty.

    So let’s not start hiding behind civility now. You jerk.

  4. When you say you “feel [Pogue’s] pain,” I have no idea what you’re talking about. He cites reckless, hostile and emotional ad hominem attacks from readers who may or may not be adolescents. In looking at the comments that appear on your blog, I don’t see anything comparable. So, are you saying that when your readers ask you to clarify an obviously weak argument, or provide more substantial info on your sources (rather than, say, a link to the T-shirts or CD’s that your source is trying to sell me), that THAT is causing you *pain*? I hope not. That’s ridiculous.

  5. What has Peter at TalkBack said to you that you thought was uncivil? What has Andrew Shelffo said that was uncivil? I think that these guys have been more than fair to you, considering your egregiously horrible evidence-gathering practices, your snotty, sanctimonious tone, and your way of insinuating that everyone who disagrees with you is morally defective.

    I’d like to see some examples.

  6. You’re certainly doing some thin slicing there when you say that attacking someone is verboten but questioning a person’s credibility is okay. Where on your civility meter does not apologizing after questioning someone’s credibility come in?

  7. Dear NoPorn,

    I don’t want to seem impatient or aggressive, but I’d like to politely renew my request for examples of rude or uncivil behavior from Always Controversial and Andrew Shelffo. You claimed on 12/16 that they had been rude to you. Please inform your readers of what you meant. I’d like to see at least one clear, concrete example of rudeness from each, that predates your December 16th accusation.

    Thank you in advance,
    Doug Schubert

  8. Wow. I read through all these posts. Some of them express a certain level of annoyance with you (for example, the one where you’ve just accused him of working for Capital Video), but most of them don’t even rise to that level. He says he disagrees with you, he says he’s fed up with you, but he doesn’t do it in a particularly rude or disrespectful way. He doesn’t call you names, he doesn’t curse at you. He just says he thinks your arguments don’t hold water. Which they don’t. I think Andrew has been a model of respectful disagreement.

    All this series of posts shows is how touchy you are. You need to learn the difference between disagreement and disrespect. Disagreeing is what Andrew does. Disrespect is what you do. Here’s an example: In this post, you suggest that Andrew is a hypocrite for running in a charity race. That doesn’t seem very nice to me.

    There’s nothing in the series of posts you cite that’s legitimately disrespectful or rude. If you think there is, I’d like to see the quote.

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