- Date published:
7:00 am, May 19th, 2019 - 72 comments
Categories: censorship, Deep stuff, education, identity, internet, Media, schools, Social issues - Tags: behaviour, civil conduct, free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, Harmful Digital Communications Act, hate speech, internet freedom, moderation, regulation, social media
Every day, millions of people flock online and to Social Media. In fact, some seem to be almost permanently connected. People go online because they want to be entertained, not informed, and to be excited, not educated. Because there is so much visual stimulation in your face, they tend to become desensitised; shock, horror, and awe have become the new norms. Content and material are becoming more extreme to cut through the increasing noise to ensure that revenue streams stay up.
With extreme content comes extreme behaviour. In this day and age, it is all about my personal values and me. Social and moral values play a secondary role and are neglected or ignored. Values are the basis of opinions. From this, it follows that disagreement of opinion can easily be perceived as an attack on one’s values, i.e. a personal attack. Values need to be defended, of course.
Self-defence is a legitimate excuse but only if one is under attack. Here is the catch, when one feels under attack it justifies a counter-attack. People often seek and/or receive support from others who might share the same personal values (but not necessarily social and moral values – they largely stay out of view). This can quickly escalate into an angry ‘lynch mob’ demanding that ‘justice’ is done. Ironically, tribal and pack mentality form quickly among seemingly like-minded people who in reality do not know each other at all nor will they ever meet in real life.
Without any regulation, this kind of behaviour is unavoidable and goes largely unpunished in the sense that there are no consequences for the mob – the mob rules because mob are good for (advertising) revenue. What is the answer to this serious and growing social problem? As always, education is one answer or, better, part of the answer. However, this is not necessarily school education only. Social and moral values can be learned at home, at sports (unless the über-competitive win-at-all-cost attitude dominates over fun and relaxation), or at work (same provisos as for sports), for example.
In the absence of education to raise self-awareness, empathy, and consideration for the effect one’s online actions have on others and themselves (i.e. reinforcing feedback), it is almost impossible to expect people to self-regulate and self-moderate their online behaviour – it is like an unsupervised kid in an unattended candy shop. Thus, it requires an authority to guide behaviours away from personal attacks and other harmful communication. If not an authority perhaps an advisory role is needed – instead of heavy-handed (…) regulators or biased (…) moderators a few level-headed mature people could step us as online ‘mentors’ on a particular site. Ultimately, if a person continues to demonstrate asocial or unacceptable behaviour they show that they are not fit to participate in that online community. This must result in direct consequences and corrective or mitigating actions for or behalf of the community and the social good.
Our whole society and social life is guided by rules, many of which are unwritten. Risky or dangerous behaviour is actively discouraged. Acts of violence are punished. Et cetera. Not only is this to keep others safe but also to make sure channels and networks remain open and unencumbered for all. It is inconsistent in the extreme that somehow social and moral values have little to no meaning and can be largely ignored when joining an online community – anonymity makes this a lot easier and people can act out their dreams, fantasies and frustrations seemingly without repercussions.
A useful guide for regulation and moderation of online communications is, in my view, to ensure participants respond to points, be it fact or opinion, without personal attacks – play the ball, not the man and don’t shoot the messenger. As soon as it becomes personal, a line is crossed. Differences of opinion, no matter how extreme, are just that. They are not direct attacks on one’s personal values or identity. In fact, what is ‘in view’ is only a tiny aspect of the vast number of values that underlie a person’s identity – the tip of the iceberg. Even in the case of public personae or celebrities we know much less about them than we think we do and often this embellished or fabricated.
As we do with bad behaviour in traffic the community needs to take more responsibility and ‘dob in’ those who violate the rules of good behaviour. This is neither banning nor curbing free speech but setting rules of conduct rather than rules of content.