Hostility in the Online Medium

I posted this piece at my blog, and then felt lets talk about this issue at Indicubed. Because it affects us as a community. So here's an edit. We've also had a lot of discussion around it earlier, and its increasingly becoming an issue with more and more of us who have voices and engage in discussions online.

Neha and I were chatting the other day about Indian blogs and how vicious and hostile bloggers and commenters can be. Am not going into a heavy link-fest here - I suspect anyone who reads Indian blogs might have noticed it too. I've personally felt under attack [see No. 13] several times, and not always for reasons I can comprehend.

Comments at some blogs run into several scores - and many times it is one group vs another - each speaking over the other - and shouting as loud as they can to be heard. I must confess that I've been party to a few such 'discussions' myself. The author of the blog is often forced to defend his or her case in a tone and manner that isn't otherwise their style, and makes them so uncomfortable. Many have closed comments as a result of this viciousness. Others are reflecting on what strategy might they adopt to keep healthy and constructive discussions going.

So what's happening here? Is it that there are just some rotten eggs? Is it that they are perverts and sicko's? Or spineless cowards who go under the name Anonymous (several Indian blogs are on Blogger and this is an easy way out for commenters)? Or is there something deeper that makes us want to shout out loud - you are wrong and I am right?

Perhaps it is time to reflect. Its probably got a lot to do with how we are coping with this relatively new medium. We come from a society that's so hierarchical in nature, that has very strong rules and sets of do's and don'ts, that has power balances rooted in tradition, that has little concept or value for personal space, and that doesnot always encourage team play.

Let's just be conscious that it is a new medium, and we're in a transitional phase - the blog world is toppling and threatening many of our traditional structures, giving open voice and power to many who hitherto had none. It is a world that is not hierarchical, one that encourages an even-playing field for free speech and debate no matter what gender or age or race or religion you belong to, it does not have many pre-ordained rules and prescriptions, it is one where we need to learn to respect personal space, and where team play can be so rewarding.

Maybe we're in a state of Anomie - we're all learning ... let's deal with these issues in ways that make us more comfortable --- for some, it is to close comments (which is such a pity), for others it is to simply ignore obvious 'flamers', and not engage in a debate. I personally prefer the latter. When you don't engage someone, they may knock harder for a while, but soon, they will go away.

It's also obviously not just an Indian online phenomenon - there's some wisdom in this post by Chris Allen on Extrapolative Hostility in the Online Medium - where he quotes Mick LaSalle, in a column :

"As for why people get hostile when they hear a differing opinion, I go back to Spinoza's definition of love and hatred. He says that people love that which they think reinforces their survival and hate that which they think threatens their survival. I believe - this is just my humble theory, now - that when people hear an opinion that counters theirs, their minds extrapolate from that one opinion to imagine a whole philosophical system. And then they imagine how they would fare in a world run according to that imagined system. So they go from disagreeing to feeling threatened in a matter of seconds, and they lash out. Often they write letters that begin, "You are obviously," and that's where they identify, not you, but the phantom they feel threatened by......"
Excellent post, Dina.
Not to self-propagate, but wrote this on my blog as a response to my conversation with Dina, and her post.

You go gurl!
Absolute gem. I loved that post.

for some strange reason I can't see the author's name anymore with the post's timestamp.

I don't mean to be contrary...! But it's hardly that hostility is a new thing in the online world. It's that whole hosts of people are taking to blogging now, and those people are finding out for the first time how easy it is to be the target of hostility, and what it feels like to get that abuse.

Look back at, to take just an example, the stuff that used to transpire on the old Usenet group soc.culture.indian -- the flames that flew about there were every bit as vicious as anything you've seen on blogs. Speak to pretty much anyone who has written columns on the Web (not necessarily for online-only publications) over the last several years, and they'll tell you of the vituperative email they've gotten.

Not that any of these means we should be blase about abuse.
Blogger allows you to moderate your post. If you feel the attacks are so vicious, you can probably use this feature. This will delay the appearance of the comment on your blog.
Please be fare and allow some oppositions to your blog to appear as well and remove obscene content from the comments.
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