Laura Hudson has a well-researched piece from the print Wired called Curbing Online Abuse Isn’t Impossible. Here’s Where We Start and I think it’s a seminal piece that suggests that bad behavior ISN’T inevitable on the internet.
The good news, though, is that Internet harassment can be combatted and reduced. While the problem is far from solved, a few online communities—especially in the world of multiplayer gaming, which has long struggled with issues of incivility and abuse—have come up with some innovative techniques to deter harassers and sometimes even reform them. If Facebook and the other social networks were to take a page from these approaches, they could make huge strides in turning the Internet into a less toxic place for everyone. But embracing their lessons would also require a whole new way of thinking about online behavior.
Hudson focuses on some gaming communities that took steps to weed out abusive behavior…NOT by simply banning trolls or ending anonymity, but by actual setting community standards that lessened an atmosphere where abuse could take place:
Some of the reforms Riot came up with were small but remarkably effective. Originally, for example, it was a default in the game that opposing teams could chat with each other during play, but this often spiraled into abusive taunting. So in one of its earliest experiments, Riot turned off that chat function but allowed players to turn it on if they wanted. The impact was immediate. A week before the change, players reported that more than 80 percent of chat between opponents was negative. But a week after switching the default, negative chat had decreased by more than 30 percent while positive chat increased nearly 35 percent. The takeaway? Creating a simple hurdle to abusive behavior makes it much less prevalent.
The piece brings up something that I emphasized in my own piece on the recent troubles: is it up to the community to develop and set standards for behavior. That’s how civilizations generally work. The internet has gotten a free pass for a long time because…it isn’t part of society? The internet IS our society now, and the same rules of courtesy and respect should be applied.
This is not a free speech issue, as many people still contend in the comments of Hudson’s article. It is surprising to me how many people (mostly men) are so devoted to having public places on the internet as their own personal thought toilets. The internet is a huge place and if you want some place to be a wackadoo, there are many places you can do it without crapping on other people’s lawns. And yes, I know that some social situations tend to run hot, like playing a real time video game, or certain city council meetings. Or Taiwanese legislatures. Elevators containing the Carter/Knowles family. It’s human nature. But it’s time to reel in the abuse. The internet is real life, and who you are here is reflects who you really are.
And it’s time for the REAL MEN out there to be real heroes and say this is enough. Because no one likes a big pile of crap on their lawn.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.