Ethics and Civility on the Internet

You know I love the Internet. I love playing with web pages. I love the freedom to communicate that I never had before the Internet. But like every wonderful technology, the Internet has its undesirable side. That undesirable side allows people to act in ways that are not acceptable in the real world. People become trolls and incite flame wars. People hide behind anonymity and say terrible things about other people or rival businesses. People defraud unapprehended with spam and phishing schemes.

The results of all this freedom to behave badly in the virtual world seems to be leaking over into the real world, too. Rude behavior is spreading. An attitude of “only my needs matter” pervades society. Brilliant people with enormous gifts to offer like Kathy Sierra are silenced. We all suffer from her loss, especially people concerned with learning, teaching, and how the brain processes new information.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is outed as a sockpuppet who has been denigrating Wild Oats for 8 years on business forums. This behavior should tarnish the image of Whole Foods in the eyes of consumers—but who knows yet—he may pull a Libby and get away undamaged.

Since a lot of bad behavior online is hard to pin down as illegal, there are few ways to stop it. We occasionally catch a spammer. We sometimes out the sockpuppets. But not often enough. We, the users, we, the people, are the ones who must demand better behavior. We must name names, make the hidden transparent, stop rewarding bad behavior. It isn’t up to the government. It’s up to us.

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2 thoughts on “Ethics and Civility on the Internet”

  1. on one of my infrequent visits to BlogHer, i read your thoughts about this. glad to see your take on it. i’ve been puzzled by the casual manner in which it has been viewed in the media. is everyone so afraid of john mackey, his power, money?

  2. Naomi,
    I think of it as a social trend: rewarding people for behaving badly. People think, like John Mackey has been quoted as saying, that it’s “fun” to pull stunts like this anonymously.

    There’s a restaurant where you have to be rude or the waiters won’t serve you. We glorify gangsters. The Sunday supplement in my local paper had an article today about a book that teaches you how to lie to make yourself look better. It all seems to be part of a trend to me.

    Speaking of BlogHer, I think you would be interested in this article about The International Council of 13 Indigeneous Grandmothers. If you haven’t already heard about these women, they are kindred spirits of yours worth checking out.

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