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"The Sinister March of Net Niceness"

by Colin Rule
August 2009

From Colin Rule's blog.

Colin Rule

From Valleywag (warning: heavily airbrushed and quite cleavagey model picture after the link): "...that's the thing about being impolite online: it might be needlessly abrasive 95 times out of 100, but those other five times it's awesome, conveying fresh perspective readers would not have seen were it not for the cloak of anonymity. Cohen says we should make anonymity utterly shameful, except in cases where there is a "reasonable fear of retribution," but this sort of etiquette is basically just a way of regulating opinion, and runs counter to the rawness that has historically been one of the Web's great strengths. You could say the same thing about Wikipedia's new mechanisms for institutional control. Anonymous writers might not always absolutely need the secrecy the shroud themselves in, but they have good reason to want it.

Put another way, if we have to choose between prim scolds like Randy Cohen and impolitic ankle-biters like Fake Steve Jobs (anonymous for many months) or NYTPicker, we'll take the latter any day, even if the price is wading through tons of crap."

I don't think people should be required to be nice all the time. I'm all for free speech, and rawness is part of the deal -- sometimes the truth hurts. But I think each individual should have a pretty high mental bar that they have to clear before they are willing to engage in anonymous, ad hominem attacks. I agree that anonymity has its place, but those who engage in it for selfish, hurtful reasons should be ashamed. I think it's non-sensical to say "this sort of etiquette is basically just a way of regulating opinion" -- etiquette doesn't regulate anything. People should be embarrassed if they engage in this kind of thing without a good reason, and to say they shouldn't be embarrassed because they may censor themselves is to miss the point. I think individuals should censor themselves, but they shouldn't be censored. That's how etiquette works.

Biography


Colin Rule has worked at the intersection of technology and conflict resolution for the last two decades. He is CEO of Modria.com, an online dispute resolution service provider in Silicon Valley, and a non-resident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. From 2003 to 2011, he served as eBay and PayPal's first director of Online Dispute Resolution, designing and implementing systems that now resolve more than 60 million disputes each year. Mr. Rule is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002. He has presented and trained around the world for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, UNCITRAL, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as teaching at UMass-Amherst, Stanford, Southern Methodist University, and Hastings College of the Law. He has written and been interviewed extensively about the Internet since 1999, with columns and articles appearing in ACResolution, Consensus, Dispute Resolution Magazine, and Peace Review. He holds a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a B.A. in peace studies from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.



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Website: www.modria.com

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