April 9, 2007
Written by C.N.
The subject of this post doesn’t relate specifically to Asian Americans, but nonetheless relates to this blog. The Internet has always been a medium for free speech and unfettered expression. But along with that freedom, it’s also been a place where many people use the cloak of anonymity to express themselves in hateful and threatening ways. Is it too late to introduce some civility into this universe? As the New York Times reports, many bloggers are calling for a voluntary code of ethics and conduct, which is already causing much controversy itself:
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship. . . .
Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself. . . .
A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive. That may sound obvious, but many Internet veterans believe that blogs are part of a larger public sphere, and that deleting a visitor’s comment amounts to an assault on their right to free speech.
Like many sociologists who study this issue, I agree that I anonymity provides people with a very effective and useful excuse for engaging in offensive behavior. It’s very similar to how people act within mobs — that being part of a big group gives them “cover” and allows them to do things that they normally would be deterred from doing.
The same principle applies to the Internet — whether it’s in the form of blogging, participating in discussion forums and message boards, or playing an online multiplayer video game, anonymity allows people to ignore conventional norms of civil — and frequently legal — behavior. Remember that this code of conduct is voluntary, not mandatory. People can choose whether or not to participate, which is the essence of freedom of expression and democracy.
I firmly believe in freedom of speech and expression, but there is a clear line between disagreement and illegal harassment and threats.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Bringing Civility to the Blogosphere" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/04/bringing-civility-to-the-blogosphere/> ().
Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=406