Rainbows are beautiful and puppy dogs are cute. Moms and Apple Pie are all American and should be celebrated and revered. No matter what we think of a war, we should celebrate the soldier.
I could write a blog that continued with the sentiments expressed above and I bet that it would take no more than ten comments for someone to call Obama a Socialist or a Muslim. By the twentieth comment, someone would have been called a “libtard.” Give it another twenty comments and whatever sign in names Jeff and Roy are currently using would be slinging mud. It is the same template for every comment section in this edition of The Patch.
Sometimes the Patch’s attempts at enforcement are worse than nothing at all. In a blog about thanking good teachers (which seems as close to uncontroversial as you can get), the following exchange occurred:
2:33 pm on Friday, January 4, 2013
“This a reminder to keep the conversation civil. Commenters who fail to be civil may have their accounts suspended.”
2:43 pm on Friday, January 4, 2013
“...go ahead. Your threat is worthless. i will just open another account” (1)
The conversation then continued as it had before, insults and all. This sets the Patch moderator up as the parent who continually counts to three, always threatening the next time there will be consequences.
Of course this problem is not limited to the Patch. Try to read the comments section of any news site and you will find the same inability to stay on topic as people jockey to promote their point of view. I used to post regularly on a discussion board created for Disney fans. Even on that site people would get themselves so worked up about certain subjects that they would get themselves banned. I had longtime friends unfriend each other on Facebook after arguing about the Newtown shootings and the pros and cons of gun control.
In real life, police serve as a reminder that the law exists. However, their small presence only works because as a society we have bought into the concept of law and order. Take that away and you have a riot. Online moderators can only play a role if most of us agree to follow the rules. Therefore, the best way to solve the problem of uncivil discourse is to practice personal responsibility.
I doubt very seriously that most of the worst online offenders talk to people in real life the way they do in the comments section. For example, could you imagine one of your coworkers walking up to you and saying:
“10:08 am on Tuesday, January 1, 2013
You two lovebirds...need to meet up and have a liberal love fest with each other. You are both about the same size, so we can call it a fat fest!” (2 )
There are real people on the other side of the computer screen, not just empty aliases. A decent conversation requires everyone to remember that fact.
Another thing to keep in mind is that disagreement with your positions is not a sign of disrespect. Too often people act as though the validity of their beliefs is threatened by the disbelief of another. Reasonable people can look at the same situation and come to different conclusions.
Much like a good neighborhood watch can reduce crime in a neighborhood, online communities can play a role in keeping the peace. If you witness someone being abusive, you should say something. This is especially important if that person is one who usually agrees with your positions. Peer pressure can be very persuasive.
There are some people who are genuinely unbalanced and will continue their antics no matter what is said to them. They may feed off of any attention that they are given and, therefore, should be isolated. If they post something that is false, correct the information without engaging with them on an emotional level. Sometimes people seem to find entertainment in purposefully pushing an unbalanced person's buttons. To me this should be no more acceptable than harassing a homeless person to see if he becomes unhinged.
I think that we all benefit when there are thriving online communities. The free exchange of ideas strengthens our Democracy by putting us in touch with other points of view. However, it can only work if we all push to make this a civil discourse.
(1) http://pasadena-ca.patch.com/blog_posts/teachers-matternow-more-than-ever, accessed 12/5/12
(2) http://temecula.patch.com//blog_posts/off-the-cliff#comment_5950321, accessed 12/5/12