That’s just, like, your opinion
Last week, Roaring Fork Swap — a local barter Facebook group that’s become a community resource — was almost deleted due to the administrative stress of dealing with angry members.
In a comment thread on the since-averted shutdown, I managed to mire myself in an unrelated argument, which certainly illustrated the need for a more robust team of moderators.
It also got me thinking: What is it about the Internet that breeds discord?
Obviously, conflict happens in person.
Reasonable people can be angry for reasonable reasons, and unreasonable people can be very good at getting angry over anything and everything. Still, even the most bombastic phone call or vitriolic tirade has never equaled the venom I’ve had directed at me online.
It’s probably not just one thing.
I have heard people blame anonymity, although most people on Facebook are using their real name coupled with more personal information than you’d probably learn on a first date.
Still, it spares us from looking our opponent in the eye as we sink in our verbal barbs and delivers their replies in a monotone where friendly banter or a polite request comes across as curt.
There’s also the matter of the audience. Forget Bentham’s Panopticon — modern society has taught us that any attention is good attention.
It’s satisfying to get a rise out of someone with the whole world looking on, and difficult to back down if they start to get the better of you.
As others start to weigh in, a primal battle dynamic seems to take over, raging on even if the original debaters settle their differences.
Maybe it’s simply that we have designed social media to facilitate commentary and debate, while conflict is discouraged in person.
Not being a mediator, I don’t have an easy cure.
As an overly analytical person, I could suggest a review of the classic logical fallacies.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I have seen an anecdote used as incontrovertible evidence, or watched someone attack the trappings of an argument without countering its substance, often degenerating into simple argumentum ad hominem.
In the end, it’s probably not about logic.
Some people seem to think that if they find something offensive it ought to be banned from the web.
Others are quick to dismiss others’ feelings and call everyone whiners, all while spewing hate and using freedom of speech to chastise those who turn their own rhetoric back on them.
We all have our blind spots.
Myself, I find it helps to imagine my preschool teacher, high school crush, or mother is reading everything I post online. In this small town, they actually might be.
Will Grandbois is not looking forward to reading the comments on this column. He would prefer people contact him directly, at 384-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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