Tuesday, January 5, 2010

incivility in the internet age

An obituary for journalist Deborah Howell, who was killed in an accident in new Zealand, generated a slew of ugly comments from readers who didn't even know her. In this NPR interview, journalist Melinda Henneberger questions the incivility that results from the anonymity of the internet.

When do we say basta? Or should we? Should these kinds of comments be censored? Is doing so a violation of free speech? The internet has long been heralded as an instrument of democratization. But how do we -- or should we -- corral it?

You can read Henneberger's column on the subject on Politics Daily here. Here's a taste:

But there was also a shocking number of comments to the effect that since Howell was in the news business, she must have been a lefty, so how fabulous she'd been killed. There was joshing speculation about whether she'd been driving a hybrid, a joke about how liberals walking in lockstep really ought to be more careful, and a couple of cracks about how Republicans were sure to be blamed. "One less of those anti-US types to deal with," said one of several celebratory rejoinders from readers who by their own account had five minutes earlier never even heard of Deborah Howell.
We can't pretend this sort of thing is limited to one or other corner, either; Matt Lewis wrote here about how news of Rush Limbaugh's chest pains had similarly gladdened some tiny liberal hearts, and our obit of Irving Kristol provoked disquieting comments, too.

So, what to make of this? Assuming we are not becoming a nation of psychopaths, are we trading our humanity for a little negative attention? Do people just not think before they type? Or, even if they don't really mean such meanness, do they not worry that someone who reads it might?

1 comment:

Samantha McGue said...

In our tech-savvy generational age there have been several accountable incidents supporting online anonymity as being reckless and immoral. The incivility you discuss here and refer to in the obituary have also been seen in such creations as juicycampus.com. Although everyone should maintain the right to free speech the ethical dilemma is raised of taking responsibility for this voice. When offensive remarks are stated with such confidence and vigor, you have to wonder why the speaker is so cowardly to not stake a claim with their name? No matter how bold your statement may be, the lack of maturity has never been more clear with the author's identity remaining anonymous. This is clearly a different situation than maintaining "privacy rights" and the incivility in our age's internet activity has gained a presence of normalcy, which is absolutely ridiculous regardless of any age.