Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The $64,000 Question: Does Net Etiquette Open the Door to Paid Invective? The Netvocates Conclusion

The question isn't without merit. Consider this analogy: Predators don't eat the bright yellow frogs in the rain forest, because their skin color tells the predator that they're poisonous. What if 999 out of 1,000 frogs that were bright yellow weren't poisonous. You can bet 1,000 yellow frogs would be eaten with only one disatisfied customer.

The accusations hurled at NetVocates may have merit. Mind you, however, the nasty comments on my blog came from two people who were pissed that I said that Al Gore was being hysterical. Check that. They were pissed because I said he was running for President. One called me an idiot and the other said I know nothing about the environment (Not begging his pardon because it isn't needed, but I was a highly skilled environmental advocate who testified in front of several legislative bodies including a congressional committee - I think I might know a little about the environment). The point is, they were to the left and the charges against NetVocates center around them being to the right.

Let's go back to the frogs. If there is only ONE bright yellow poisonous frog, everyone would know who he was and what he was about. In the wetlands of the internet, we just have too damned many bright yellow frogs hopping around. The Columbia Journalism Review had this little piece and I think it's relevant to our discussion. It begins:

"Yesterday, columnist Richard Cohen wrote a piece for the Washington Post entitled "Digital Lynch Mob," about the venomous response he has received from readers after an earlier column criticizing comedian Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House correspondents' dinner.

"Kapow!" writes Cohen. "Within a day, I got more than 2,000 e-mails. A day later, I got 1,000 more. ... The Colbert messages began with Patrick Manley ('You wouldn't know funny if it slapped you in the face') and ended with Ron ('Colbert ROCKS, you MURDER') who was so proud of his thought that he copied countless others. Ron, you're a genius."

"The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred," adds Cohen. "This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated."

There's not much chaff in the piece so it's worth a read. But it's point is that net debate is about as intellectually degenerate as it can be. That makes some sense given the number of kids on the web, but they cannot be solely to blame. Until we raise the bar, the nastiness online will only continue until some god-forsaken bureaucrat somewhere decides to regulate it (think "net neutrality").

Sure, there are spies to the left and the right. But as long as the venom flows freely, it will be difficult to spot them. I'm now officially spent on this topic, so I'll give it a rest. But we shouldn't give courtesy a rest. I think it's necessary to get it back if we ever hope to have a civilized discussion again.

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