Will the Internet Ever Get Less Nasty?

BY now, anyone who writes for a living knows the kind of nasty comments and chatter that accompanies almost any public utterance. (This seems like a cross between the hostility that’s bred on places like Fox News and the larger “snark” culture, with an extra layer of nastiness unique to the Internet.) How did it happen, what are the consequences for our public discourse, and can it ever get any better?

Is the Internet — often compared to the Wild West — just going through a Deadwood phase, with a gentler, more civilized state to come?

A number of scribes have mused on Internet trolls lately, in part because of the social-media retreat by Robin Williams’ daughter. But this piece, is my favorite of them, and not just because it was written by someone close to me. Sara Scribner writes:

Although the initial promise of the Internet was that it was a noncommercial, alternative space where anyone could have a public forum, there is clearly something about the structure of the Internet and what happens to people when they are using a computer that taps into something deep, dark, com200px-D&DTrollspletely judgmental and furious. The worry is that the fury will reshape our online world. Will the Internet become a nasty, brutish place where only the bullies can find a voice? Is there a chance for civility and free speech online?

For what it’s worth, I’ve been amazed over the months I’ve written this blog just how civil and smart the comments and discussion has been here, even when people disagree with me or other readers. I hope and trust we can all keep it that way.

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  1. TonsoTunez says

    Agree with your article except for the hate speech you used to single out Fox News as a breeder of hostility. Have you ever spent any time watching MSNBC and their merry band of hate mongers led by the insufferable Al Sharpton? Both organizations (one, sadly, funded by NBC) do their utmost to tear this nation apart. Both are despicable. And, both, when talking about breeding hostility, should be mentioned in the same breath.

    Check out what Maureen Dowd has to say about Rev. Sharpton.

    He Has a Dream
    Maureen Dowd

    • says

      Agreed that MSNBC can be nasty; no question, and trolls exist across the political spectrum.

      But while I’ve not done a formal study of the matter, my sense is that the current wave of hate and incivility started on the political right — O’Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, etc. The lefty types are copycats. This said, I’d like to see it disappear from both sides of the aisle.

  2. GabEl V says

    One man’s hate is another man’s opinion, Scott.

    One could discern from your opinion piece that, for example, you may ‘hate’ Fox News but it would be presumptious of me to assume to know what is in your heart.

    • says

      To dislike something and consider it dangerous is different than offering rape threats, which is what the Salon story I’m linking to is about. Let’s not get off track — Fox News is tertiary to this discussion

  3. GabEl V says

    Scott, while I wholeheartedly agree that many internet comment sections and blogs have become nasty, vile places and I too hope that someday all matter of incivility and hate will disappear from our conversations, I am simply trying to point out that your assertion that, this news network and the pundits you called out are the source of this wave of ‘hate and incivility’ is inaccurate and somewhat hypocritical. By singling out Fox News as the primary example on which you built your point, it was no longer ‘tertiary’ but primary to the conversation.

    Sara Scribner’s article was very well written, thoughtful and objective. She somehow was able to keep it civil without getting political and without lashing out and making unfounded accusations about groups or individuals which might breed hostility or incivility. Nice job Sara!

    Your post, on the other hand, went right to the inflammatory rhetoric in the first paragraph. Your comments will appear to be a cheap-shot, an attack, to many who do not share your political views but won’t even raise an eyebrow to those of like-mind.

    Throwing out jabs based on your ‘sense’ about something political or ideological is going to take the conversation directly off track. That is how most of these conversations get derailed.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, Scott. I know of tens of millions of people who would never make it to Sara’s article if they read your post first. They would be offended by your comments and want to defend their opinions and beliefs (reflected by Fox News and the like). Thus, the brilliant article we should have been discussing has been completely diluted.

    One last thing, ask Anne Coulter for some examples of the real-life death threats and rape threats she receives on a daily basis, from folks most certainly on the other end of the political spectrum. It’ll make your stomach turn.

  4. GabEl V says

    Here’s a quick and easy way to determine if Fox News and the like are breeding the hate and hostility on the internet; the next time you comment on a blogpost or video, end it with a statement that infers you are a Christian and politically conservative. That will usually open the very gates of hell! It should be quite easy to tell if the hateful and murderous wishes flying your way are coming from the right or left (I’ve done this experiment numerous times with similar results).

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