July 07, 2006

I've Got Your Civility Right Here

Something I've noticed quite a bit lately, particularly as more and more newspapers jump into blogging, are commenters repeatedly lamenting a lack of civility.

Which is basically true. online commenters can be some of the most in-your-face, unapologetic cock-knockers you can possibly imagine. Some make comments just to yank chains, others are just overpowered by the instant gratification inherent in being able to spout off at a moment's notice, while still others are just generally dinks.

All of which I don't really have a problem with. I've been blogging now for nearly four years, so I've become accustomed to invective-charged comment threads, whether here or at blogs far more popular than mine. My introduction to Joshua, for example, was chock-full of literary sparring matches that make "un-civil" comments I've read on newspaper blogs seem like a Dr. Suess book.

The lack of civility, frankly, has been more amusing to me than anything else. But it's also been interesting to witness as a social phenomenon. What follows are just some observations I've made regarding the in-civility of the online world.

1) In the real world, you would rarely, if ever, see the kinds of comments being made that are made on blogs, with Joshua probably being the exception, as I suspect he has no social filters to speak of. The online Joshua is pretty much the real world Joshua. But he's the exception, not the norm. In the real world, people who are complete strangers typically don't engage in conversation by starting out with "You're a stupid dumbass." In the real world, people are far more courteous, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the online world, you can't see who you're up against; you can't read their body language; you can't see if there's a two year old in their arms; that kind of thing. In the online world, a 14-year-old going through puberty has the same amount of grunt and swagger of a champion UFC fighter.

2) In the online world, people rarely apologize or admit they're wrong. True story: I've even been guilty of this (no, really). I've lost count of the number of comment threads I've read where someone is clearly being pounded into the dirt by a debater who is head-and-shoulders ahead of them in both logic and facts, and yet the person being pounded into the dirt will never, ever admit they're wrong. Instead, you'll see countless dodges and changes of topic; anything so the person being being clobbered can claim victory over SOMETHING. Fark.com flame wars are a classic example of this. In the real world, this kind of behavior is far less frequent, in my opinion. Oh, sure, it happens, but not with the regularity you see online.

3) In the online world, everyone's an expert. The next argument point is a simple Google search away. Oh, you may not have the first clue about what you're about to argue about, but that doesn't really matter. You have a point to make, damnit! On Google! On Yahoo! On Wiki! On Jeeves! As per the observation laid out in point #2, the Internet means never having to COMPLETELY admit you're wrong. Search engines ensure a healthy comment war into infinity if need be.

4) The online world is not a very healthy place on which to build communities. The Internet is a fickle place. Oh, sure, I consider bloggers such as Johnny and Joshua and Mitch and Amy friends, but it's not the kind of friendship where I'd drive them to the airport or visit them in the hospital (well, I MIGHT, but it would have to be a pretty special case, like head cancer or something). An online friendship is kind of an ethereal thing. And, as the Plain Layne thing illustrated, you can never really, fully trust online friendships. So, it's a little amazing to me to see the kinds of communities that build up in support of such blogs as Daily Kos. There's some nearly fanatical people who hang out there. Blogs ARE their friends. And blog friends aren't typically reliable or good friends, certainly not as tangible as real-life friends. They can definitely morph into real-life friendships, but I personally wouldn't rely on that.

5) For a large part of the Internet, the world has become a very black-and-white place. You're either racist or you're not. You're either pro-abortion or you're not. You're either pro-gay-marriage or you're not. You're either Republican or you're Democrat. You're either liberal or you're Conservative. You're either a wingnut or a moonbat. There's surprisingly little room for middle ground discussion. If, for example, I were to say: "I'm conservative when it comes to tax policy, but I'm pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage and I think prostitution should be legal," the only thing some people would hear would be "I'm conservative," and the lines would be drawn thusly. It's gotten tiresome as hell, which is a major reason I don't participate in lot of such discussions.

6) Un-civil debates can be a freakin' scream. I personally love them. The power to call someone a "raging ass-monkey," knowing full well about the only reprisal I'll get is being called a "stinking shit-stain from hell" is quite possibly the main reason the Internet was invented. For me, the online world is my escape from all the civility of the real world. It's a digital Wild West where everyone's armed and prepared to shoot if someone even dares look at them funny, knowing full well no one's really going to get hurt.

newspaper blog commenters may lament the lack of civility online, but to them I offer up the kind of advice I imagine Joshua would tender: "Grow the fuck up already. Jesus."

Posted by Ryan at July 7, 2006 01:44 PM | TrackBack

Very vailid points - all. I've seen a lot of it as well. But I like to think of myself as one of those "what you see is what you get kind of people." I think I act the same in real life as I do in the blogging world.

I like the MoToon you have up in the corner. Did you create that image or did you find it somewhere? I only ask cuz I wants it... :)

Posted by: ethne at July 7, 2006 02:33 PM

and yeah, I know it's valid... just a little type happy today.

Posted by: ethne at July 7, 2006 02:38 PM

That MoTune was actually created by Joshua, who's linked to in this post. He gave me permission to use it, and I'm sure he'll give you permission.

Posted by: Ryan at July 7, 2006 02:55 PM

That's Dr. Seuss... you snot-eating dog raper.

Posted by: Sean at July 8, 2006 12:34 AM

Here's my image of Joshua being civil:

"Jesus fuck dog would you please pass the crumpets?"

Posted by: DG at July 8, 2006 09:34 AM

This is all kinds of excellent. I'm particularly partial to #5, but the whole thing resonates, especially after that stupid Goldstein/Frisch episode this weekend.

Posted by: ilyka at July 9, 2006 03:40 AM

Ah, but lack of civility is what makes messageboards fun.

It's a level playing field. I think I am addicted.

*hold me*

Posted by: Tuckle at July 9, 2006 03:55 AM

On the subject of the deplorable lack of civility on the internet (Ohmygod? Rudeness? On the internet? Someone alert the media!), I offer one of my favorite examples of same. In this excerpt, we witness Mr. Norton addressing someone who has just attempted a rhetorical cheap shot by drawing a totally unmerited link between one of his observations about Middle Eastern politics and some standard example of anti-Semitic anti-Israel fare:

Okay, first of all, fuck your mother. Seriously. Fuck her in the ass, then roll her in flour until you see a wet spot and climb back into the hole that spawned you, you goatfucking shitsack. You accuse me of anti-Semitism to smokescreen your weak-ass argument you better hope we never meet in person. I've got a narrow fucking tolerance for that shit.

Okay, that's pretty uncivil. But there are two kinds of uncivility (incivility?) going on here. The obvious kind is clearly visible in Joshua's response ("goat-fucking shitsack"), but the less obvious variety is in the commenter who tried to frame his argument as Anti-Semitism in the first place. This second type is in fact pretty standard fare on any of the pundits-shouting-at-pundits shows that air regularly on less controversial media outlets than the internet ("The Internet: If it offends you, you can find it here!") And from what I've seen it frequently goes unchallenged. Which is too bad. I'd love to just once see Bill O'Reilly use a cheap shot straw man or ad hominem attack and have his "guest" come back calling him a goatfucker and (credibly) threatening to kick his ass. I'd watch that show!

It's one reason I like the instant-fact-checking tendency you mention. Sure, it just as easily becomes an instant-bolster-your-bullshit-argument-with-some-statistics-of-dubious-merit tendency, but at least it acknowledges that "facts" are things that exist and have something to do with whether or not an argument is to be believed. That point seems to have been largely abandoned in what passes for debate in other, more respectable venues. Like TV.

Although it is nice when I'm reading an online newspaper and I don't have to scroll past all the commenters saying:
"2 everybody hear at this site: U R all fags!!"

Posted by: flamingbanjo at July 9, 2006 05:24 PM


Posted by: Joshua at July 10, 2006 08:26 AM

Oh yeah, PS to ethne--

I made that cartoon for my blog-- then pulled it down. The reason I both created and then pulled the cartoon is explained here.

Please take a look at the cited entry. If you still want to use the cartoon after that-- and you may well; I honestly don't have an opinion about either choice --go ahead. Mostly I stole the design anyway. The only parts I added were the text, which is a standard free font, and a scan of the first amendment.

Posted by: Joshua at July 10, 2006 12:30 PM

It would seem to me that if Ryan really wanted to make a statment that his blog was a "free speech zone" the image he chose would be something that was patently offensive to him and most of his readers.

I wonder how many of the conservatives who were free speech absolutists when it came to the right to print racist cartoons are going to turn around and vote for the same party that just pushed a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag desecration.

"Free Speech" is like "Support the Troops". Its not something the people who mouth it most necessarily believe in when push comes to shove, but its supposed to justify their nationalism.

Posted by: DG at July 11, 2006 08:04 AM

For what it's worth, I'm actually FOR the right to burn the flag in protest, and I'm personally not pleased that there was ANOTHER attempt to Constitutionally ban it.

Also for what it's worth, I don't (as SOME commenters are wont to believe) vote line-item Republican come election day.

Posted by: Ryan at July 11, 2006 09:34 AM

You know, DG, you seem a little conflicted here. You're all pissed off about the no-flag-burning thing but you've clearly got your asshairs in a knot over the "racist cartoons". So basically you've got the same problem you're criticizing Ryan for, only in reverse. It's kind of cute, in a totally oblivous sort of way.

On another note, in reading your comment I tried to come up with something that would be "patently offensive" to Ryan (or me), and the only things I could come up with were either racist (black lawn jockeys kind of things) or misogynist (rape or sexual violence against women). I mean, I can certainly come up with some images that would offend the people you're aiming your criticism at. Like George W. Bush in a cook's apron, holding the nation of Iraq (or just some icon that says "Moslem world" on it) on a spit and roasting it over the flaming twin towers. But I'm not really sure it's the same magnitude as what you're all pissed off about.

Posted by: Joshua at July 12, 2006 04:53 AM

wow - i am honored to be considered one of your internet friends!

i would have responded to this sooner, but i think you've blocked my work computer's IP or something b/c i can no longer get here from my own computer. i'm using someone else's because i saw a lot of referrals and wondered what you said about me. ;)

people use the internet to let their inner bitch come out, and make no apologies for it, which is fine if you'd be willing to back that up in person. i never, EVER write something i'd never say to someone's face. however, i guess that means i'm just as much a bitch in person as i am online...

btw, i'll be in MSP for a wedding in early october (want to pick me up from the airport? :P ) if you might care to meet face to face. e-me if you're interested.

Posted by: amy.leblanc at July 13, 2006 12:38 PM

First off, for some reason the funniest thing I've seen all day is Joshua's one-word response to this post. Just struck me for some reason.

It would seem to me that if Ryan really wanted to make a statment that his blog was a "free speech zone" the image he chose would be something that was patently offensive to him and most of his readers.

Huh??? Free speech is offending *yourself*??? I don't get it. So, would it *really* ***REALLY*** Be free speech if Ryan posted the phrase "Ryan Rhodes is an asshole" at the top of his own blog?

If, for example, I were to say: "I'm conservative when it comes to tax policy, but I'm pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage and I think prostitution should be legal," the only thing some people would hear would be "I'm conservative,"

Uh... that's not just the Internet, and it's not only recently. Story c. 1993 (from my blog):

Joshua said "...the only things I could come up with were either racist (black lawn jockeys kind of things)...."

A little bit of history on the black lawn jockey. Not as racist as you might think.

Good post, Ryan.

Posted by: Stephen Rider at July 13, 2006 02:50 PM
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