Forum Friday – When the Read/Write Web Goes Too Far

Mar 21, 2008 by

On most Fridays I like to pull an interesting resource or discussion from the Forum on the site, or from another across the vast Internet. More often that not, there are great resources or conversations hidden just below the surface of most websites, and on this particular Friday I wanted to explore what happens when Web 2.0 or the Read/Write Web goes too far.

As I’m sure many are aware by now here in the U.S. there was a recent “freak boating accident” in which a woman from Michigan was recently killed while boating with her family off the Florida coast when a giant eagle ray leapt out of the water, striking her on the neck, and knocking her down. While it’s unclear whether it was the ray that killed her or the blow she suffered when she struck the deck of the boat, one thing is clear; people shrouded by the anonymity of the Internet are jerks!

The news was saddening to hear. I imagined my own family traveling on what I can only assume was Spring Break, and then having to return home with one of us departed, and I shuddered. Loss of a loved one, especially during a moment of enjoyment and pleasure can hit doubly hard. However, after scrolling down to read the comments on the article, expecting to find well wishes to the family and condolences, I found my blood pressure rising as I read a series of not only highly offensive and snide comments, but also comments that were completely insensitive to the families time of crisis. Below are a few excerpts that I found especially distasteful:

…THE STINGRAY WAS PROBABLY SICK OF HER UGLY *** STARING DOWN INTO THE WATER AND DECIDED TO TAKE HER OUT LOL…

…To avoid this ever happening again, we need to kill every last one of these things. Pursue them with extreme prejudice….

…It is no one’s fault. I agree that bush was a bad president , but we shouldn’t be blaming people and praying for the woman and her family!…

…With any luck, one will kill YOU. One less idiot in the world. Go die….

…One fewer tourist. High season is almost over as most slime north around easter….

Now, I’m a pretty level headed guy, most of the time. I understand that often times people use humor to defuse their own feelings of dread, sadness, and unease, but some of the comments were even worse than what I posted here. And what the heck does George Bush have anything to do with sting ray attacks?! To be fair, there were also a LARGE number of positive comments, and people leaving well wishes.

But it really begged the question; when does Web 2.0 with all of it’s wondrous read/write abilities go too far? When do we say, this news story/blog post/tragic event needs to have moderated commenting, or perhaps no ability to comment whatsoever. In the land of the Internet, where everyone can safely remain behind their curtain of anonymity (to a certain degree), when do we allow honest, helpful, and productive conversation to begin, and when do we put an end to the “crude comment free-for-all” that can often proliferate on posts of morbid interest. Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Maybe I should be asking, how do we effectively steer conversations away from snide, hurtful, and outright insensitive remarks without adopting a strict policy of banishment, censorship, and monitoring?

When a simple off-color comment could come from any one of a million keyboards around the world, how do we tell people enough is enough without just engaging them to write more that detracts from the original post? What happens if responsible communication, via any means whether it be electronic, on paper, or otherwise is not safeguarded, and even the most tragic event is turned into the play thing for lurkers, trolls, and other ne’er-do-wells?

A lot to think about in just one post, but feelings that I didn’t expect I would experience having grown up online interacting with people in immature and puerile chatboxes, video games, and forums. Maybe I’m just getting older, or more conservative (shudder!), but I hope that some teacher, somewhere can make an excellent example of the behavior posted above, and perhaps change a few students’ views on interacting and conversing online, where emotions aren’t always taken into consideration.

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4 Comments

  1. Ben- Just because people have access to Web2.0 applications, doesn’t mean that they will use common sense or good judgment! There are always going to be the ignorant 10% or less that ruin things for the remaining 90%. It has always been that way, so why would it change, just because the ability communicate is now in a different format. But it sure would be nice, if there was a filter of some sort…but putting up with idiots like that is the price we pay for “free speech”. – Harold

  2. The only way to prevent those types of responses is to moderate every comment before it is posted. In the case of reporting a tragedy, perhaps commenting should just be disabled from the start.

    This type of behavior is common on a lot of forums also. It seems that there are a group of people who have no empathy for others, who are cruel and mean-spirited, and enjoy being rude, crude, and generally unpleasant.

    I don’t think that anyone can influence their behavior from the online community. Hopefully someone in their own community will have a positive influence on them. Those that act this way that I’ve talked to are on the whole very miserable people, completely unhappy with their lives, and completely oblivious to the fact that their own behavior is causing a lot of their unhappiness.

  3. It’s true, this really isn’t a web2.0 problem so much as it’s a general social/societal problem. Individuals that aren’t always capable of fully expressing their own feelings will quite often willing (or sometimes unwillingly) denigrate the feelings of others.

    A shame really, because Doctor T makes a good point; being online only seems to reinforce those negative behaviors. These types of people need positive reinforcement from those in their real life communities and social networks.

    Which is why, as Harold suggested, there should definitely be a bit more filtered control on news stories of this nature.

  4. AndyAk

    Filtered control…..yes and no.

    What you are looking at very common in a lot of ways. Look at the online chat rooms that are just “to chat” and have no real purpose. Compare that to here.

    When people go on line for no real reason they tend to spew the stuff you came across. I’m sure that there are a lot of boating sites that have comment boards where that article was mentioned, and no one had to screen them. It is the public commons that is so nasty, but there is a change from the past and the future – in the past….the era of the small town, you could stand up and say what you wanted to say, but people remembered you and your speech. Today people slip in and out of personnas as they wish…..the anomitity that lets them be so vile. You really only avoid it by forming communities where you come to know and care about the other members – even if only electronically.

    We need to learn how to teach this distinction to students. It confuses them. They need to want to be famous some day…..but not be Paris Hilton. They need to somehow experiance the respect that we come to know when we work with people that are competant. They need to have the tools to recognize the garish from the well known.

    But that education doesn’t raise scores in the near term, and it’s not on a pacing guide. We need to truly get behind the notion again that educaation is a life experiance, and not just a bunch of classes.

    It won’t change the rabble of the commons…..but it will take some of the audience away from it.

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