Friday, March 27, 2009

Green Ink - no thanks!

The internet is well suited to the green ink brigade of incandescent fury. You don't need physical courage to spout bile at people, and there are so many outlets where you can express yourself that, unlike in real life, no one can shut you up except you.

An added aspect to this is that the technology is constantly developing so shared understandings of what the proper etiquette have difficulty keeping up. Most people probably have a good idea of the etiquette when commenting on blogs for instance, and when they break those norms they know they are being dicks, rather than being dicks unintentionally.

But what about friend requests from people you don't know on Facebook? If someone you didn't know came up to you and said "be my friend" you may feel awkward or uncomfortable but if you choose not to take them up on the offer you'd be unlikely to lose much sleep over it, but somehow the webnet adds new dimensions of uncertainty, and even if you think you know what the done thing is there certainly is no guarantee that the person you're interacting with agrees.

Which brings me to this excellent post by Dave Gorman. Of course it's the post that's excellent not the experience he describes of being harassed online simply because two of the 21,453 people who've chosen to follow his twitter "tweets" were mortally offended by the fact that he didn't follow them back.

Their behaviour began at peevish, swept through juvenile and sprinted straight to disgusting harassment and criminal behaviour in less than twenty four hours. All because they felt slighted by someone quite reasonably choosing not to pretend to follow tens of thousands of people and opting to have more meaningful interaction with a manageable subsection of the online masses.

I recommend reading his post on this as it's genuinely interesting and brings up a lot of themes about the net that are well worth discussing. I promise it isn't just a long whinge about how some people on the internet were horrid to him, although Christ knows we've all been there and even if it does go with the territory it doesn't make abusive behaviour right.

These charmless fools are obviously out of order but because netiquette is ambiguous, contested and needs to take into account when people are just genuinely upset and make one off errors, it seems to me that what is acceptable online is even harder to fathom sometimes than what's acceptable in meatspace.

For instance I've used a picture from Dave's website to illustrate this post. If it wasn't for the fact that I was making this particular point right now it's unlikely I'd have attributed where it had come from or anything. That's not just an illustration of precisely how gangsta I am, but also potential rudeness... although not on this occasion. Unless you count stealing his photo without permission, which, granted, some people might see as a breach of the rules. But basically I think that this kind of stealing is alright, so where does that leave us?

Personally I think that it's usually pretty obvious when someone is behaving like an arse and they should just stop it - but it's more important when it comes to political blogging than when you're posting up pictures of cats with post-its stuck to them (important though that endevour is) because anything that draws us away from the points being made or poisons the well of discussion sets political discussion back for no meaningful gain.

Rudeness has its uses, and there are far worse things that can happen to someone than being called a name, or having their words of wisdom deleted because they're too boring, but in my mind green ink has no value at all, and people who use it often find themselves covered in the stuff as the world simply turns quietly on, oblivious to their outrage.

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