Anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection has a million opportunities to express an opinion online. That doesn’t mean they have an opinion worth expressing, but more importantly, that doesn’t mean others on the internet have an obligation to either respond or treat them as kindly as they want to be treated.
This basic reality has given rise to a demand for remedy, ranging from the proposal of a criminal anti-meanie laws in Alabama to renewed demands for the elimination of anonymity. Couldn’t we all just be nicer toward each other? Did no one heed Rodney King?
There is an underlying flaw in the reasoning of those who seek to create an internet where no one’s feelings are hurt.
Seattle lawyer, Collette Vogele (@vogelelaw), of the nonprofit group, Without My Consent, providing paths to justice for victims of online harassment [argues]
…[O]nline harassment cases–such as that of blogger Kathy Sierra, who was driven offline after receiving anonymous threatening e-mails on her blog–illustrate other threats from anonymity. Requiring identities will keep things civil.
While the Kathy Sierra situation has become the exemplar of online harrassment, it’s the outlier. Some have tried to use it to argue that this is a gender issue, giving birth to such intellectual monstrosities as Cyber Civil Rights, while others use it to prove that the internet needs to silence mean speech. For the children.
This isn’t about death threats via the internet, however, but the banality of people demanding attention and validation of their ideas. While Kathy Sierra is a one-off matter, every day a million cries of “bully” arise online because someone, somewhere, didn’t think you were as compelling as you thought you were.
As expected, free speech advocates disagree. No one is promoting the idea that people should be mean, but rather that speech happens as it happens, and sometimes it happens mean. To put it otherwise, it’s better to have free speech and risk the possibility that someone’s feelings will be hurt than limit free speech, together with the ideas it contains, and preclude the expressions that might hurt someone’s feelings.
For lawyers, this is somewhat problematic. We espouse ideas for a living, and they are often in direct conflict. One of the reasons there are judges is to both keep a lid on our argument as well as decide which of competing ideas wins. There are no judges on the internet. Because of this, some lawyers want to argue their point ad naseum, which adds nothing to the discussion, is ultimately boring and annoying, and accomplishes nothing. Once you’ve made your point, there’s little more to say. The other guy doesn’t agree? Do you think if you repeat yourself 27 more times, it will change?
But there has been a cry recently for civility, what some want to cast as professional courtesy, in the course of discussion. Wouldn’t that be lovely? I think so. Now if all the morons, nutjobs and lying marketers would kindly disconect from the internet, we could have a wonderful, civil discussion.
That’s my perspective, you see. Not yours? That’s the problem. Each of us brings our own perspective to what’s worthy of discussion and what’s so blitheringly stupid or inane as to be immediately dismissed. Some are delicate teacups, and easily hurt by anything shy of complete validation. Some are pugnacious, and demand your time and energy to engage in their fight. Sometimes, a subtle point is clear without being expressed in overtly harsh tones, but more often, people don’t get it unless they’re clobbered over the head. Nobody like being clobbered.
This was one of the problems that drove me away from blawging. Obviously, not so much of a problem as to keep me away, but a problem nonetheless. Whether in the comments here, or by the stray twit, two demands are made: first, that I embrace the worthiness of somebody I don’t know, never heard of, by dropping everything and spending as much of my life as they demand to engage in a discussion with them on the subject of their choosing. Second, that I treat them civilly.
Whether the source of this demand is the baby lawyer who believes that his inchoate views on the practice of law is on par with that of the experienced lawyer, or the legal marketer who is deeply hurt by views that don’t show sufficient respect for the value of stringing words together in meaningless phrases, they net result is the same. They are entitled to attention.
Fail to show them the respect they demand and they get all angry and huffy. You are mean. Tell them they’re ideas are ridiculous and you are a bully. Ignore them and they are outraged at your lack of professional courtesy.
One of the constant tools of the ignorant is the misuse of the Latin phrase “ad hominem.” It doesn’t mean what they think it means. If a point is foolish and you say so, they accuse you of the dreaded ad hominem attack. They’re wrong, but then, Dunning-Kruger prevents their ever realizing it. Does the erroneous accusation make it your problem? Not in my book.
If this post sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this is a subject I’ve written about a few times over the years. My views haven’t changed, but the internet has. New people show up and raise the same old civility and bullying arguments. Why aren’t you nicer to me? Why won’t you stop your life and pay attention to me? Why won’t you agree with me?
Because credit is only given where due. Just because you have a keyboard and an internet connection doesn’t mean your opinions are worthy of anyone else’s time and attention. Just because you breath doesn’t mean you exist. At least not to anyone else. No law, no call for civility, no heart-felt plea, is going to make you suddenly fascinating to the rest of the internet, so much so that you will be loved, admired and win every argument you decide to start.
On the internet, we’re all bullies. None of us, truth be told, loves humanity that much that we become best friends with everyone who twits at us, comments on our blawg, Facebook friends us or plusses our Google. We need to grow up and get over this.
We all pick and choose. Sometimes, we don’t choose you. And no one makes you choose me etiher. It’s not a crime.