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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Fighting on Facebook shows need for civility on Internet

    Everyone has, at some point in their life, had to observe a knock-down, drag-out fight that does not involve them, which, for some reason, they are forced to quietly watch.

    Whether it’s a friend and their family at a gathering or co-workers on a heated day at the office, this particular event is one of the most uncomfortable social situations to have to be involved in. Everyone hates to have to be in that position, and fighting in front of the uninvolved party generally elicits universal shame. It seems strange, then, that it appears that these kinds of events are actually increasing in frequency as technology improves.

    Count for the average person the number of fights observed firsthand, and the number that have clogged up their newsfeeds on Facebook or other social media, and it’s a good bet that the latter will heavily outweigh the former.

    It is no secret that people behave badly on the Internet. Any and every message board, forum or comment section will provide plenty of evidence for that. The deeper question, as always, is why. Observation indicates that people don’t say nearly as many vile things in the real world as they type on the Internet. So what is the difference between reality and cyberspace? The simplest answer is numerical. That is, the only actual person in the room during an Internet conversation is the speaker. This observation may sound simple, and it is, but the implications seem to be wider than expected.

    Obviously people know that they are communicating with real human beings on some level, but not having eyes on them seems to give people a perception of anonymity. An individual’s communication on the Internet often receives the most attention of any they make on a day-to-day basis, but many treat it as emotionally and unrestrainedly as a personal diary.

    There is another side to the physical isolation of conversing on the Internet. The colloquial statistic that 90 percent of communication is body language may be a little high, but there is a reason everyone reading this has heard that statistic quoted before. Words themselves rarely ever tell the whole story in terms of interpersonal communication. Simple phrases can mean anything and everything, and at times completely opposing things, when combined with a certain affect or facial expressions. When there aren’t any physical cues to pick up on, however, it is left to the receiver of the communication to interpret the emotional timbre for themselves (emoticons aren’t enough). Once the wrong interpretation has been arrived at, and a strong emotion has been elicited as a result, it is difficult to steer the conversation back to its original intention.

    Finally, there is the opportunity for a far more purposeful angle in heating up the conversation. When someone is angry to begin with, there are fewer natural inhibitions to be directly or passively aggressive. When there is a yelling match in the real world, the yeller receives immediate consequences of some type. On the Internet, the combatants receive no such instant feedback on their outbursts. A sort of fight by mail occurs, in which the fighters can submit their vitriol at their leisure, go back to their business and return to the next cruel remark when they feel like it. Some might say that this could act as a good calming mechanism, but it also has the chance put even greater distance between the emotions of the two opponents. A dangerous de-humanization occurs when the person one is fighting with is just a picture and a few sentences on a screen.

    Facebook and other such technologies have revolutionized the way all human beings communicate. As with most such astounding advancements, the benefits are plentiful, and they far outweigh the costs. This does not mean, however, that the costs should not be productively analyzed.

    Incivility on the Internet may seem like a small problem, but its singular nature and seeming omnipresence should at the very least give humankind pause. Perhaps, like with the equally innovative automobile, the technology will come first and the rules for using it (traffic lights, stop signs, and indeed roads themselves) will grow naturally in practice. In the meantime, attempting to transfer tried and true real world etiquette to our online interactions certainly couldn’t hurt.

    — Andrew Conlogue is a junior studying philosophy, politics, economics and law. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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