Rejecting The Bullies
I know there’s an usually unwritten rule about commenting on commenting in the digital realm. I am sure it borders on some amorphous definition of meta, a word that I think is actually supposed to be a suffix and that I am definitely sure lacks a cohesive definition, but I’ve never been much for rules or ceremony. So, I’ll be blunt. The vast majority of comments on the internet are useless at best and destructive at worst.
I think this is similar to what internet pariah of the month, Denis Dyack, meant when he said internet forums need to be changed. Like many of you, I reacted initially to his comments with the knee-jerk “Ohhhh, Denis,” but as I’ve let the concept soak in the brine of my dissatisfaction with the vocal population of gamers on the web, I find myself increasingly inclined to agree.
To bemoan the horror of net discourse is certainly nothing particularly new. I have spent any number of hours reading vile and venom aimed at my own words, most often when I have said something unapologetically that runs counter to popularly held views such as: Piracy is bad for PC games; Vanguard isn’t a very good game; I’m looking forward to Fallout 3 and sometimes EA isn’t all bad.
I imagine should this missive break beyond the bonds of our oddly functional community, I will suffer similarly.
The democratization of the web – a term that means very little but sounds patriotic enough to demand respect – has installed an illusion of a digital first amendment that protects speech no matter how poorly spelled or stupid. Never mind that providing a comment section on a private website entitles nobody to a big helping spoonful of nothing, we are operating in a digital society that doesn’t just believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion – a tenet I grudgingly concede – but that they are entitled to express that opinion wherever they see fit.
The result of that is the web as we see it today, where the value of smartly considered discussion is weighted equally with loud and angry voices that offer nothing save new and creative ways to suggest a person self-impregnate. The alpha personalities of the web, cloaked in anonymity and set loose in this unrestrained medium, are a driving force in the lowered level of discourse on the web and, I think, a factor in the sad state of online journalism, dialogue and even product.
I am with Dyack in thinking the reign of the terminally loud and annoying has crossed the threshold from being irritating to being destructive. Whether they represent a minority or majority I can’t say, but they have become the dictators of warped common sense. They drive the discussions within and without the gaming sphere. Across what seems a dangerously wide segment of our culture, it is the hysterical and furious who dictate the tone of our shared discussions.
Odd as this may sound; I think part of the problem is the purity of the mode of online discussion. Understand that when I call the discussion pure, I’m speaking about the undistilled nature of comments. With anonymity, lack of repercussion and most importantly unfettered access to the web, people are free to shed the bounds of common decency, a sick beast itself, and respond in their most basic natures.
This is not a good thing.
I’ve said before that the bounds of our social contracts are the barriers between a functioning society and bashing each others’ heads in with rocks. Having to take responsibility for your words and actions are good things, and destroying those barriers can seem democratic from a broad view, but in practice just unlocks the checks blocking the most aggressive and opens an express lane to chaos.
What I’d really like to see, in many ways, is a system where people are not invisible. But that’s not practical. An alternative would be for more organizations create a more comprehensive and social approach to moderation, but that demands man-hours and resources. If anything, rampant internet malfeasance is a direct result of convenience, and again this seems equally unlikely.
So, the solution seems to be to reduce the accessibility of feedback. Interactivity does not necessarily need to be the holy grail of online reporting. Oftentimes, feedback seems out of place, and can swiftly become a distraction or even a detriment to the hosting organization. Do we really need to open the floor to every clown with an agenda to inject his or her venom? Does every place on the web necessarily need to follow up content with open mic night at the Tourettes Palace?
Why do we allow the sense of entitlement to persist that it is perfectly ok for any malcontent with an opinion and functioning fingers to walk into our online house and start hurling dirt on the walls? It seems counter intuitive to me, even self-destructive to be the vehicle for your own criticism, particularly criticisms that is misinformed, angry, motivated by alternative agendas and barely literate.
I don’t really need to know what Skizzbucket221 thinks about the issues of the day. It doesn’t make the web any less democratic. Shutting down Skizzy’s vitriol in our house doesn’t curtail his freedom to fire up his own blog. But, it does take away his visibility in a place like Joystiq, Slashdot or CNN, and forces him to build up a following on his own, which is where the real democracy is at.