Friday, March 06, 2009

Snark in the Public Discourse

Judith Timson writes:

But the anger, the rudeness, the personal insults and the basic unwillingness even to engage in civil disagreement over real ideas is growing at a disturbing rate all over the Internet.

Frankly, it's been there since Day 1. But yes, I do agree that the tone of public discourse on the internet is very abrasive and anti-intellectual.

This cruelty is highly addictive. There's a high-school tinge to it. Take the brutish message I recently received from one reader: “You must be some lonely, desperate and (judging from your pic) old frumpy broad with wrinkles. Gross me out or what.” The guy even signed his name.

Exactly. How do people take this seriously? Do they not realize that if they were to write a blogpost or editorial, they'd get the same sort of insults? It's just dumb.

We may have to ruefully recognize the democratization of opinion that the Internet has wrought. It's no longer the privileged purview of paid commentators to opine from on high (or down low). It's a free-for-all. Under the guise of anonymity, and with the ease of clicking “send,” anyone can have at anyone.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that we have the freedom to effectuate change by insisting on rules.

I'm very proud of my combox. Sure, it's not perfect, but there at least you can have a reasonable discussion about a highly charged discussion without all hell breaking loose.

I think that's pretty darn good.

If you want people to insist on facts and arguments, and not insults, then insist on it on your own blogs. I think a rule that has worked for me is: do not insult other posters. If posters feel free to say what they think because they know they won't be derided, that goes a long way to advance the discourse.