While reading Chapter 2 in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, I was struck by his comment about the problems that are created by conversation via social tools. He states, “Conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does, but it also introduces new problems. It is famously difficult to keep online conversations from devolving into either name-calling or blather, much less to keep them on topic.”
Libel. Humiliation. Insults. Anger. These can all be considered “problems.” How do we balance and encourage social media discourse and the need for civility? Whether it is a young teenager being humiliated online due to an unfortunate lapse in her own judgment (StollenSidekick) or a politician being wrongfully accused of something (Twitter Libel Claim Bests UK Politician), the lack of restraint by some individuals is causing problems for others.
If you have ever read George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, you know that times have changed. Included in those rules of etiquette are to speak no evil, use discretion when speaking, and speak no injurious words. In today’s online world, the focus on polite conversation is often hard to find. Rather, online discourse often tends to focus on people’s self-interests. Too often that self-interest comes with a lack of manners and a lack of respect for others.
Shirky also states, “for any group determined to maintain a set of communal standards some mechanism of enforcement must exist.” One online community (NPR.org) has recently begun to enforce discussion rules. As of March 2, 2011, they began to “more aggressively moderate the user comments that appear on the site.” Their NPR Community Discussion Rules are aimed at providing the “civil conversation” that its members value. Why now? It seems that recently there has been, along with a rise in spam-filled comments, “a significant increase in comments from some individuals who participate simply to anger or insult other community members.”
This is unfortunate.