Being Horrible Online

It’s easy to be a horrible human online. This came as a bit of a shock to me when I first started using the net (later than some of my friends) and I wondered, “Are there just a lot of mean badly mannered people out there? Don’t these people have mums to tell them off?” Over time however I realised that “these people” are just average and it’s the nature of the Internet to encourage “flaming”, “trolling”, Fisking (no it’s not sexual) and result in Godwin’s law – all Internet discussions degenerate into arguments and comparisons with the Nazis.

So why are people so horrible online?

Or put it another way, why are people less likely to be rude to each other in life than online? Here’s why:
Social Norms
In most societies (a few uncivilised ones like the USA aside) social norms have been established for a long time so social interaction is lubricated. The net is comparatively new and has yet to “normalise” though thankfully this is starting to happen – as it has with mobile etiquette.
Fear of Reprisal
In the street you’re polite because people can smack you in the mouth if you’re not. Online they can’t.

Damage to Reputation
In the outside world our reputations are crucial – the Internet can be anonymous.
Embodied Communication
Much communication is non verbal so misunderstanding are much more frequent online – emoticons were invented as a useful way to try and avoid this 🙂 but sadly 🙁 there’s no substitute for face to face communication still. My own company specialises in embodied learning.

When people are out of sight they are “out of heart” and easy to dehumanise – modern warfare relies upon this too incidentally.
So is it a good idea to be horrible online?
Let’s all be mean to each other then if the Internet is a safe place to be horrible in…Er bad move and wrong. Ethical and moral issues aside (aka “the weekend” here in Brighton) this is not in your best interests. Here’s why:
  • Reputations are as important as ever (and anything you say online can go global and be recorded forever). If you wouldn’t post it in the public square or have it carved into your gravestone don’t say it online
  • People can find and harm you (and if you flame this I personally will 🙂 in life and online (e.g. Rickrolling)
  • Real people ARE involved
So if like me you’re tempted to be horrible from time to time online, consider the list above…when I remember it saves all sorts of trouble…so I should probably end by saying sorry to the USA for my earlier cheap gag 🙂
Online So What: Be nice, it’s worth it even if it’s hard.