Thursday, May 03, 2007

A digital bully den?

I've read an interesting article in The Independent by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, and while I don't agree with it, I've been noticing an increase in cyber-scepticism and technophobic criticism against all things online. While some of the protestations can be classed as the typical grumbling against change from the Luddites, some of the criticism may be justified.

The Alibhai-Brown piece is a good example of this. Why should she complain about a friend who's late for a dinner party because he was playing around in Second Life? Would she publish the same criticism if he was late because of reading the newspaper, or watching the news? Being late for an appointment is irrelevant to the technological cause, it's bad manners. Similarly, complaining about people married to their Blackberries fails to realise that those people are simply rude, and if they did not have their devices, they would ignore you anyway.

However, the article may have a point about the growing virulence of expression online. The Kathy Sierra affair has helped to uncover the ugly side of sexist targeting of online personae. Similarly, anyone who has spent any time in an online community will be familiar with the disruptive change that happens to some people as soon as they're behind a keyboard. After all, anonymity + keyboard + audience = frakwad. There seems to be a growing fear that the Internet brings out the worst in some people. Closet racists, misogynists and homophobes can find communities of similarly-minded people where they will reinforce their own prejudices by producing feedback and looking at the world from their own perspective, and filtering out any dissenting opinion. This has been expressed in Cass Sunstein's excellent, and I think that is indeed cause for concern.

The Internet can offer the world at our fingertips, yet increasingly many choose it to connect to the cyber-sewer of the mind.

On a lighter note, Lilian Edwards has sent me this wonderful picture (click to enlarge):

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