Slay the trolling dragons for a more civilised internet

Internet spats and fights are so tempting - and traffic generating. But are we really taking responsibility for the online culture we're creating?

One of the biggest dragons of the internet are trolls. If you’ll excuse the gratuitous mixing of fantasy imagery, the hostile, confrontation-provoking online commenter – the troll – has kept too many people from exploring parts of the internet. Jeff Jarvis, journalist, blogger and thinker has raised the issue, characterising trolling as an issues all of us need to deal with, not just community managers and social media specialists:

Oh, we’ve all done it. At least I’ll confess that I’ve done it. I’ve been in fights online I’m ashamed of. Like kids left alone by the substitute teacher, we — many of us — exercised our sudden freedom by shooting spitballs around the room. Have we gotten that out of our systems yet? Isn’t it time to stop and ask what kind of net and society we’re creating here?

Yes, yes we should. Civilisation is the process of creating series of rules and frameworks for behaviour that allow us to live in the company of others of our kind, in some form of order that benefits all concerned. In the early, free-wheeling and more anarchistic days of the net, there were an informal set of guidelines in place for debate – netiquette – that seem to have been eroded as the internet has become more and more mainstream.

Think this is a trivial issue? It’s not. Lives are at stake – and Jeff points us to evidence of that. I’m a recent father to a small girl. The thought of her being subjected to that sort of internet abuse as she seeks to carve out her identity in her teens just makes my blood run cold.

Jeff argues, persuasively, that this isn’t a meter for laws. We have plenty enough of them to use on the extreme cases. No, this is a case of taking personal responsibility for how we interact online:

This is our problem. Your problem. My problem. Every time we link to, laugh at, and retweet — and retweet and retweet and retweet — personal attacks on people, we only invite more of the same. And every time we do *not* call out someone and scold them for their uncivil behavior, we condone that behavior and invite more of it. Thus we build the net — and the society — we deserve.

The easiest person to change is yourself. Want to see a more civilised net? Change yourself.