[AI] Chee, don’t say that!

vishnu ramchandani vishnuhappy at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 22 02:13:23 EST 2008

Chee, don’t say that!

Author: Rajiv Mathew

Remember how your mother would stop you from using
‘bad’ words? Pity no one’s watching what you say

Mind your manners: Posters on forums often tend to be
strangely abusive. Where’s the decorum?

The deeper we sail into the world of online
communication, the sadder seems the future of our
virtual lives.

Criticism, disagreements and personal attacks have
always been an integral part of online communication,
but what’s stunning is how hostile ‘ordinary’
people are with each other these days.

Take for example, Rediff, a popular site in India.
Each discussion here begins with an article and then
the floor is open for discussions. Lately, an
number of these discussions are devolving into
name-calling and bickering.

What’s worse is that the population of such people
increases as the civil ones get offended and leave.
Scholarly sites haven’t been spared either. It’s
gotten to a point where one rarely participates in
forum postings because of the lack of civility. 

Sometime ago, I was responsible for monitoring an
online youth community forum and was surprised to see
how easily users attacked each other over their
opinions on trivial subjects. A root cause of the
problem is that there are no immediate or direct
consequences related to abusing others online. Add to
that the fact that many people see their view as THE
view and don’t keep an open mind.

The real shame, though, is that the knee-jerk
‘everyone else is an idiot’ tenor is poisoning the
true essence of the Internet. 

People picture it as a global village, a place where
one can work out differences. But instead of finding a
common ground, we’re finding newer ways to
target others. 

Do we all need to go back to school to learn about
Internet behaviour?

But why?

On the Internet, we’re anonymous. We don’t have to
face anyone and don’t see a reason to display
courtesy. We worry that our comments will be lost in
shuffle, so we lay it on thick to enhance visibility.
The open toxicity is all part of the political
climate. We’ve recently learnt from the Australian
cricketers that open hostility can pass for meaningful

Reality check

Online abuse has been an ever-increasing problem since
the Internet grew to encompass more than lonely
college students and caffeine-fuelled programmers.

Inappropriate behaviour on online message boards is
not so much the problem, but a symptom of a general
malaise affecting society. It stems directly from
this hyper-competitive world that we live in and
encourage. The Internet is just a mirror of society. 

And if you think Rediff is bad, read some comments on
YouTube, or Yahoo Answers, where many teens go for
advice and end up being butchered. 

Looking for answers

The solution to this problem is complex and begins
with every individual making intrinsic changes.

We need to understand that anonymity cannot be the
armour we use to hurt others. A different opinion can
always be shared politely and people should understand
the difference between ‘freedom of speech’ and
‘personal attack’.

Online forums should not permit foul language and they
should be closely watched. Further, we have to reject
the idea that we need to pay attention to
unnamed sources. When someone is rude in a forum, they
need to be told, firmly but politely, that they are
out of line. If they refuse to learn the lesson,
their privileges to comment in the forum need to be

While all it takes is a little awareness and
restraint, it looks like someone should start offering
courses on online etiquette.

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