Yesterday in my Ethics of Mass Communication graduate class we had several student presentations on civility on the Internet. I definitely agree that there is an extreme lack of civility online and it reminded me a little about my senior seminar paper.
For my senior seminar paper (turned in about 2.5 years ago…wow!) I researched the “Uses and gratifications of SMS text messaging.” [side note: SMS turned 20 just recently, but is slowly disappearing. The research in this paper does also apply to other forms of texting.] My paper focused on why people turn to this type of computer-mediated communication (CMC). I looked into what happens when new technology is substituted for face-to-face communication. The whole paper started with my curiosity as to why people post their most personal information on sites like Texts From Last Night and FMyLife.
Maybe it is time to dust off the senior seminar binders and revisit this topic because I am still interested in it.
So, back to civility on the Internet.
In face-to-face communication, we can watch how our words have an instant impact. We can hear the harshness of our words. We are held accountable for what we say. This is not typically the case on the Internet. To paraphrase one of the presentations, “incivility has an effect just from being read.” You don’t have to even be the subject to be greatly impacted. The lack of responsibility people take for their Internet actions is a severe detriment to our society. It is so easy for people to merely regurgitate what like-minded people say without opening their eyes and ears to that of other opinions.
One concept that these presentation got me thinking about is alienation/competition. In real life and online we are constantly trying to outdo each other. Online it can be a competition about who can post the most, post the most outrageous opinion, post the most scandalous content, post the funniest picture or share the most personal deep dark secret.
Just because you can say basically anything you want on the Internet doesn’t mean you should. Think of yourself and your reputation as a brand and the ramifications of what you post can have a serious and negative impact of your brand. You would be very remiss if you think that potential employers are not going to do their due diligence and research your online personas. Oh, and by the way, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet.
When people publish anonymously, it opens a whole other can of worms. Anonymous can do and say what it wants. And that is not necessarily good. Anonymous doesn’t have social or moral obligations and what is said does not have an impact on their relationship.
Anonymity can be good when it allows people to speak when they would otherwise go unheard. Discourse is necessary for the evolution and this could be a way to contribute to life stream of society.
Think about the benefits of what you post. Think about how your audience would react and then think about what kind of impression it would give a stranger. Would you say this kind of thing in a face-to-face conversation? Just because it pops into your brain doesn’t mean it should be typed by your hands and sent into the cyber realm.