Saturday, January 29, 2011

Internet Courtesy

I commented in a recent post about the name-calling that I sometimes see in the blogosphere. One of the problems with blogs is that so many of the comments are posted anonymously and that means that people can avoid accountability. One of my friends said that she prefers comments on Facebook where anonymity is harder to pull off. But there are still rude and condescending comments on Facebook and I have decided to confront those who post such comments.

Yesterday there was a batch of comments about a link I had posted on my Facebook page. The link was about Chick-fil-A's links to anti-gay organizations. When one person defended Chick-fil-A, several people weighed in. The person's response to one of them began, "I'm assuming either a limited experience with, or an influencing  involvement in, homosexuality." Later I confronted the person on what I saw as a very condescending comment, one that might have been interpreted as an assertion that the person he was addressing was either too inexperienced to be able to have a rational opinion about homosexuality or had been brainwashed. The response I got was that no offense was intended. I will assume that that was true, but unintentional rudeness is still rudeness.

Blogs and Facebook and other media have provided ways for us to communicate with wider circles of people. I tend to post on Facebook links to blogs that I find valuable and have been thanked by friends for introducing them to blogs they might never have discovered. But new media present us with some of the same old challenges of maintaining a level of civility in discussing serious - or not-so-serious - matters. I remember navigating some difficult conversations with family members about the Viet Nam war a generation ago. Just as we learned then that we could endanger relationships by poorly thought out comments, so we need to learn to more thoughtful in using these new media. In the same way that SPAM makes e-mail less valuable and at times seem destined to make it useless, so rudeness in comments on blogs or Facebook makes these tools less valuable. I think we need to take the time to hold one another accountable for lack of civility and be willing to be held accountable ourselves. Higher standards of behavior are unlikely to be effectively imposed from above, but we can make a difference.

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