Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Panopticon in Reverse

Who says the mainstream media doesn't do some things well? New York Times writer Mattathias Schwartz explores the world of Web trolls.

Ultimately, this issue is about the idea of the "commons" and whether the Web can function as a place to exchange ideas and information without getting buried in slime:

Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”? Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

(Via Firedoglake.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was an excellent article. Thanks for sharing! I'm having my kid read this.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Raksha said...

Yikes. That was a depressing read. Oscar Wilde once said something like "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he'll tell you the truth."

I've been called a cynic for saying this before, but I honestly believe that the vile behavior we see on the internet (whether it be something major like causing seizures in epileptics or something minor like a reply of "fattie!" left on a dancer's YouTube video) is those peoples' honest truth. The feeling of complete anonymity afforded by the internet means they finally express all of the things that they think and feel all the time, but usually restrain in real life interactions for a variety of reasons.

Because of that, I don't think the internet will work as a "commons" any better than any other part of society, regardless of the level of control/censorship/policing/whatever. If people want to get to the utopian vision of the possibilities of the internet that I see so many people talk about (free exchange of information, social equality in anonymity, better informed and knowledgeable users, etc.), then you really have to address the root causes of people's anger, fear, and contempt for each other. Our society is extremely atomized and stratified and it encourages people to see others as competition and/or Other. Understanding, cooperation, compassion, empathy, loyalty and care are actively discouraged.

The problem is bigger than the internet and needs to be addressed in every system of society at every level.

2:22 AM  

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