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<xTITLE>"The Sinister March of Net Niceness"</xTITLE>

"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 is CEO of Mediate.com.  From 2017 to 2020 Colin was Vice President for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. Tyler acquired Modria.com, an ODR provider Colin co-founded, in 2017. From 2003 to 2011 Colin was Director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal.  Colin co-founded Online Resolution, one of the first online dispute resolution (ODR) providers, in 1999 and served as its CEO and President.  Colin worked for several years with the National Institute for Dispute Resolution (now ACR) in Washington, D.C. and the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, MA.

Colin is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002, and co-author of The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection, published by the ABA in 2017. He received the first Frank Sander Award for Innovation in ADR from the American Bar Association in 2020, and the Mary Parker Follett Award from the Association for Conflict Resolution in 2013. He holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a graduate certificate in dispute resolution from UMass-Boston, a B.A. from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.  You can read many of his articles and see some of his talks at colinrule.com/writing.



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