When I was growing up (the Dark Ages, according to my children) we read the news in the paper, in magazines, and saw it on TV. Most articles were quickly forgotten. The more interesting stuff, which included politics, mass murderers, things of local interest, and Darwin award winners, we talked about. Everyone had a point of view, and we learned about views different from our own through discussion, debate and sometimes argument.
Discussion still occurs today, but much of it has moved to the internet. It’s amazing that we can have conversations with people from all over the world in real time. Some of these conversations are great explorations of the topic at hand. Pathetically, most of the conversation is at the level of five year olds, except with profanity.
The internet offers anonymity, giving people the power to say anything without real repercussion. Read the comments after any story on CNN.com, FoxNews.com, or any local news site. The hatred for another who has expressed a contrary view is stunning. It goes way beyond “I hate your guts.” It’s more along the lines of “You’re obviously a retard, so don’t reproduce, a-hole.”
The mechanism that stops your mouth from saying what your brain is thinking when talking face to face apparently disengages on the internet. Its like a shouting contest, but it keeps on going because there can be hundreds of people shouting at the same time. The civility normally exhibited when people engage in conversation is gone.
The bigger problem is that this behavior is starting to creep into everyday life. There are more road rage incidents, and simple manners are routinely forgotten or ignored. The implications for society aren’t good.
Occasionally there is real creativity and fun demonstrated in the comments following a news story. I read about a million-dollar supercar recently that the Feds won’t allow into the country because the passenger airbag might injure children. Comments included reference to the blond passenger coming equipped with her own airbags, kids never being allowed to put their grubby hands on the car, etc.
I wonder if the expression of anonymous hatred makes the author feel better, or superior to other internet commentators. I think part of the reason this occurs is because it’s so easy. Thirty seconds to sign up, select a screen name, and you are free to insult for as long as you like.
Maybe the answer is that highly trafficked media sites need moderators that don’t post commentary that doesn’t advance the discussion. Some might say that’s censorship, but it’s no different from an editor selecting which letters get published in the newspaper. And since the internet allows anybody to blog or start their own website to express their views, those with extreme views can go to sites catering to people with the same thoughts. They can all swear at each other for hours on end.
Or maybe the media sites should require real names be published with each comment. Would the guy spewing four letter words do that if his name was at the end of the post? I suspect a lot of these internet big mouths are petty people.