Policing (or Civilizing?) the Internet

In the ’emerging meme’ department, I have been intrigued by a number of recent efforts to police, or civilize, the Internet. Or at least those corners of it that individuals feel they are able to claim some ownership of.

In that this would appear to be such a Sisyphean undertaking (feel free to look that up as need be; it’s a good backstory)-the Internet seeming to reject most attempts at policing or otherwise civilizing online behaviours-I have marveled at the efforts to do so. They feel so noble. Possibly futile, but noble nonetheless.

By all perceptions, the Internet seems congenitally incapable of prolonged sustainment of civilized discourse. The first rule of the Internet, of course, is “Don’t feed the trolls.” Followed immediately by the second rule of the Internet, which is “Never, ever read the comments pages.” And the corollary to the second rule, which is “Particularly if they reference you directly.”

So I marveled when I found, in a single reading session, not one but three attempts to slap people pride the head in (mostly) positive and (largely) constructive fashion:

1) Austin Kleon’s contact page, providing useful guidance on not inundating him with unnecessary communications: http://austinkleon.com/contact/

2) John Scalzi (formerly SWFA president) providing consequences for persistent posting on off-limits topics: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/06/28/the-crossposting-penumbra/. This is particularly noteworthy given his apparent ignoring of the second rule of the Internet and its corollary, as well as his coining of the term ’crossposting penumbra’, which I adore.

3) Mary Robinette Kowal (also, interestingly enough, a recently-departed SWFA board member) and her slightly off-colour but entirely constructive response to a dozen trolls: http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/dear-twelve-rabid-weasels-of-sfwa-please-shut-the-fuck-up/. Also noteworthy, for its blatant ignoring of the first rule of the Internet.

Take the time to read them. No, really. I’m patient. I’ll still be here when you’re done.

No. Seriously. Go read them. Now.

Good. Now that you’re back, lets reflect a little. Do you detect a theme?

Without question, the Internet has been the last domain of the weasel, the troll, and the socially-maladapted-recluse. To a certain extent, it has helped to give voice to many more of them. Anonymity has empowered people to indulge their inner troglodyte with relative impunity. And politicians, reality TV and conspiracy theories have provided them with ammunition.

What i’m starting to detect, delightfully, is an unwillingness to tolerate this behaviour anymore. Now, I’m not nearly as famous as any of the three commenters that cited, and am therefore less directly impacted by time-wasting morons. That’s arguably a good thing. But we have all abandoned articles, sites and whole online communities out of frustration with the troll-like acting out of others. And when we do that, the trolls win. They are left to self-importantly squawk and posture in their virtual nests, with no one left to challenge or contradict them.

But perhaps that’s changing. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of an attempt to engage in more civilized and meaningful interactions in cyberspace. Perhaps we are getting to a point where manners are being seen to be important once again, and not just in real life. If that is the case, then I applaud loudly and enthusiastically. And hope to see more examples like the ones above.

And if that works, maybe we can teach the same behaviours to our politicians.

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