The other day I was stuck in the midst of what had become a very heated debate regarding video game DRM (digital rights management), DLC (downloadable content), disks, downloads, rights, and piracy … and was amazed that in spite of strong opinions and polarized stances that the heated discussion stayed pretty respectful and stayed away from foul language, personal attacks, and other things that typify a ‘flame war’.
It was in stark contrast to a discussion I briefly entered late last week that began as a discussion of the merits of the new GTA: Chinatown Wars for the iPhone compared to the existing PSP and DS versions. That quickly degenerated into an unreadable flame-war where not only the various gaming platforms were called into question, but personal insults were hurled, age, gender, maturity, sexual preference and more were all fair game as foul language was used by many folks in an attempt to beat others into accepting the superiority of their position.
Then, of course someone invoked Godwins Law. Godwins Law states that in any heated internet debate someone will eventually call someone else a Nazi. In this case Apple was the Nazi, and users of the iPhone were in concentration camps. The thread derailed and died pretty quickly from that point, but there were certainly hurt feelings involved as the site attracts younger and older handheld gamers alike.
So I step out of those diametrically opposed situations and read that Engadget has closed all comments on the site. They cite “environment for our users and editors has become mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations”, and are using this as a reminder to “some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place, but that’s simply not the case.”
I spent way too many years in the vast wasteland of USENET discussions, eschewing web forums until about 7 or 8 years ago when there was really no choice left as pretty much everything had moved to the web. On USENET things really were more or less like the ‘wild west’, with free and often shocking exchanges and flame wars.
On the web, however, that site you are using as a platform to support products, put down products, help folks, spew hatred or whatever is almost always a privately owned and paid for property. The web is not ‘free speech central’; signing up for a free forum account doesn’t give you part ownership of a site nor the right to say whatever you want.
Some folks use their own name or a fairly standard username when posting comments, while others use anonymous ID’s. There is no ‘right or wrong’ in that regard, but it does seem that many people believe that being anonymous gives them the right to say whatever they want without any regard to showing respect for others – in short, they act like jerks. Most of these people would never speak to another living person this way but become emboldened behind the faceless keyboard and mouse.
Most companies, schools and other institutions require new members to go through ’email etiquette’ training, and most companies have ‘social networking’ and ‘internet information exchange’ courses. While these may seem worthless, they are a good reminder of some basic facts:
- Everyone you encounter on the internet is another person and should be treated as such (except forum posting bots and WoW Gold spammers, of course).
- The false pretense of anonymity is just that – false. Everyone leaves tracks everywhere they go and can be found if needed.
- The old adage ‘if you wouldn’t want your mother to read it, don’t post it’ is always a good standard to use.
- Your accounts on sites and equipment are granted by someone else, and if you break the rules you agreed to that account can be removed.
Wil Wheaton gave a speech a few years ago at a gaming conference in which he famously said “don’t be a dick”. So remember that when you head out and engage in internet discussions: have fun, get passionate, learn stuff and exchange ideas, but don’t be a dick.
Thanks to Douglas Moran for the ‘Godwin Event Horizon’ phrase that really tickled my fancy!