The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Some Thought, Part Ten – Respect

Posted by BigWords on April 24, 2010

There has been some rather eloquent posts already written examining respect – with people making clear points which really shouldn’t need making these days, but I have yet to see any serious or committed reexamination of online behavior guidelines. There’s no reason why it should have been so completely abandoned by the masses, and an adoption of the basics could possibly halt online diatribes in their tracks. The idiots who decide to gang up on an individual (Richard Dawkins has faced such a firestorm of moronic personal attacks in his forum) really deserve to have some sort of public admonishing. The ability to comment isn’t a democratic right. You may think anyone has the right to litter the internet with abuse, but you would be wrong – someone pays for the hosting on forums, and on blogs, and pretty much everywhere that matters. So… A majority-led charter signed off by the group, where a code of conduct is adhered to? Yeah, that’s one way of going.

But wait… Removing a person from one area of the net would send them off in search of other haunts. And that isn’t much better than throwing a violent drunk out of a bar – it moves the problem on, but doesn’t remove the problem at the root – we need to be thinking along lines which have the potential to resolve problems. My concept of the future of the internet being much tighter than it is, with blogs, forums, and other communications all tied to a single account, would give people the ability to inform of improper behavior (racism, for example) so that the online activity of the individual can be peer-monitored. There is much to be said for this move away from fragmented identities (handling accounts on WordPress, Blogger, Google, forums, Disqus, Twitter, and elsewhere is not the perfect solution to an online existence), though this opens up a world of hurt when the account is cracked. Problems, you see, are merely opportunities in disguise after all – by linking all internet activity to a single account we could see a larger uptake on discussions which are split across the expanse of the internet, merging thoughts which, before now, would need members of both communities to make the connection.

So what other means would be employed to keep people from baiting and bullying their way through the digital landscape?We need a way to combat the bullying which has driven teens to suicide, and the efforts of a few (a Facebook campaign by YA authors f’rinstance) are admirable. And Facebook has a solution I like… The use of buttons which flag up user activity to a third-party oversight group (child protection buttons already take advantage of this technique), with levels of punishment appropriate to activity, could skim off the users who deliberately attack random people with their words. A safeguard (or several) would be needed to prevent people being flagged for no reason, though a simple and effective check and balance system could have its’ place in stopping this. There is much to be done in fighting bullying, but online respect has other areas of interest to me, which are less well highlighted than the more obvious areas.

It is a good idea to remember just how much of the internet is filled with commentary and personal opinions, and how much of that is of objectionable content – even leaving aside the obvious contenders for note here, it should be pointed out that a staggering proportion of the web contains openly hostile content. “Parody or horribly offensive” is the gray area in which some revel, though I find it hard to accept that an openly offensive-for-the-point-of-being-offensive stance is remotely amusing. Some “extreme” areas of the web (Goatse – don’t click the link) have managed to cross over into a less powerful force thanks to memetic dilution (the Olympic Games logo riffing off the image is part of this), but there are other, less savory areas we have to trawl through before we get the full scope of what is needed for a better internet. A safer, less trouble-wrought internet for the masses to enjoy – the folks who wouldn’t necessarily go out of their way to hunt down the squick which lurks out there.

Managing The Internet

The use of “NSFW” as a warning to those who may not want to click a link is useful (if only to keep people from getting fired from their IT jobs), and the idea which has sparked off the use of this acronym is one which is possibly the most audacious proposal I’ll be making here… A voluntary rating for search-engine age-appropriate content:

Green Locations

1 All-ages text and images.
2 May contain inappropriate words
3 May contain inappropriate words and images

Amber Locations

4 Teen-relevant sites, with monitored content
5 Teen-relevant sites, with unmonitored content
6 Teen-relevant sites, may contain inappropriate material

Red Locations

7 Mature themes / content
8 Mature themes, content may offend some
9 Mature themes, content will offend most

Black Locations

X Adult-only material

At present search-engines are very inefficient at filtering content to age-appropriate settings, and adding a single digit to each website to validate the level of inappropriate of offensive material before adding the site to search parameters would make the internet just a little bit better than it is. The level of filtering would take precedence over other search requirements, putting the emphasis on which material is suitable for the intended audience. The use of color-coded symbols beside each link would help casual surfers avoid anything which is too harsh for their tastes, whilst allowing those of us with dark sensibilities to continue looking in amazement at the absolute strangeness which exists around the internet.

Protecting The Internet

Censorship, which is always a hot topic, is another area of respect in which too few actions and too many commentaries are present. Saying that blatant censorship of content is wrong is no longer enough, and a more proactive anti-censorship stance would help bolster confidence in what is disseminated through the web. The fact that Google has begun listing instances where content has been removed at the instigation of governments goes some way to doing this, but the disrespect for users is still apparent. That doesn’t begin to compare with the disrespect shown to authors, while Google systematically steals work from publishers irrespective of copyright, nor does it come close to the abysmal behaviour some major software companies.

Respect (in a particular example) means that you thank people for work done in the form of payment – not merely a “thank you” (if, indeed, you manage to get as much as that), and Microsoft’s behaviour when security loopholes are pointed out is one of the things which irks me. I’ve never written code for them, but know people who have. People who, in their own time, have solved problems which Microsoft couldn’t deal with. And this is something which crops up time and time again – the larger the company, the less respect they give consumers. We live with this situation mainly because we have little option, but a stance should be made every now and again to remind them who is in charge of the relationship… Companies answer to the public, not their shareholders – if we decide that we don’t like a service, we have the power to make it go away, simply by ignoring it.

Sliding ever-so gently off-topic, but I’m on a roll…

Policing The Internet

While I am bringing up what material is unsuitable for children to view, I should also make mention of the groups who would have us believe that the internet is policed in some fashion. It isn’t. Far from it. The internet is, and has been compared to for a while now, a frontier town in the Wild West. The only laws imposed on it are those which the users demand – I’ll be taking a few pot shots at this in my next post, but for the moment I don’t feel inclined to tackle the blindingly obvious.

I think I have covered everything I set out to tackle here, but if anyone has additions to make I would welcome them. This post is already longer than I intended it being, so I had better stop before I run off into other, unconnected, areas.

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2 Responses to “Some Thought, Part Ten – Respect”

  1. My golden rule is that I never post anything online that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Too many people forget there’s a human being sitting behind that other computer somewhere.

  2. bigwords88 said

    That “would you say it to their face” position brings up the question of social normalities – if a certain number of people dictate that something should not be said in public, then the conformity of the group shifts to exclude the phase or statement from “civil discourse.” This is one of the benefits of an evolving language, in that it changes so frequently as to introduce new concepts and words, but it creates as many problems. What I consider to be some fine, another – whose peer group has decided a phrase is verboten – may take offense. I’m still much of an opinion that a proper internet civility guide should be available, with indications as to what is acceptable in various places.

    The fact that so many people forget others are communicating – often simultaneously – is an indicator of “internet phenomenon aspergers,” which (unlike the medically accepted condition) may be to do with the tunnel-vision of internet communication. There are a few studies indicating a disassociation-from-self whilst surfing the web, and it may be the case that the rapid ascent of the technology has had unintended behavioral modifications on brains which were never meant to process information at such a rate. Whatever the root of many “flame wars,” they always seem – at least in hindsight – to be based on depersonalization of communication. This is one of hardest things to root out of the internet, so it may be some time before common agreement of behavior can be reached.

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