Despite having a short class, we seem to have touched upon a few important points that are worth repeating here. The major part for me was Dr. Zamora’s recount of dealing with anger. It made me truly realize the aspect that bothers the most of us about online world; it’s our own primitive nature reflected on computer screen like a mirror. It is no secret that people, in general, do not enjoy seeing the primitive nature of humanity, yet it is an innate part of us all. At the moment of anger, within a split-second, we make the crucial decision between “punching the guy” and “not punching the guy”. Dr. Zamora’s recount was about writing a letter to reflect on instead of acting on her anger prematurely. If only that were possible for everyone else to do at will. The awful comments or the tweets that people send out into the digital ether all stem from that very moment. We’re basically witnessing people “throwing fists” at each other on the internet. In fact, more controversial and dramatic the things are, more cathartic they get. There is no better alternative to observe our primitive side than looking at the internet, especially the social media. It’s the thing we love to hate, and hate the fact that we secretly love it.
The people online feel the need to voice their opinion for everything. If there is a trending topic, regardless of familiarity, social media addicts (I’m not sorry to use that term) immediately type their opinions and put it out there. Often times, if not always, people ignore where this trending topic/news/scandal has originated from. So, it could be something taken completely out of context. In our class, we’ve discussed finding the actual source but for a lot of people it is completely irrelevant. It’s not about whether the news or whatever was said by whomever is true or not; it’s about them and making themselves feel special. The self-centered attitude that people develop online (unintentionally or not) is a real issue. I remember this very topic being discussed on the podcast by Ricky Gervais, and his analogy of someone walking by the sidewalk and seeing an ad for guitar lessons, then yelling out loud: “I don’t want goddamn guitar lessons!”. It’s a perfect example. People need to realize that they do not have to respond to every single thing out there. I always see the social media as the guy in front of the circus tent inviting people inside to go crazy and have a “fun time”; $20 per person! Of course, it’s hard to resist. We’ve gotta see what’s inside the tent because we don’t want to be left out —do you?
Another important point mentioned in the class was the position of the user online; being a content creator or a consumer. Although it may seem like a simple distinction on the surface, it could potentially have much bigger impact on the individual. Almost everything that you can find online is free, whether it’s a video, an article, or even a game. The over-consumption of free content inadvertently enhances the sense of entitlement. People demand everything to be free now, even the exclusive contents that require payment end up getting torrented (if you’ve ever used internet, then you should know what “torrent” is). Torrenting a content is stealing —there is no other way to put it. It is a universally accepted notion that stealing is absolutely a bad thing in real life, but for whatever reason, it is a typical (even accepted) behavior online. Why is that? As it’s been stated before: “the online world is the wild west”; everyone is out to benefit themselves. We either join in on “the fun”, or simply sit back and type up an opinion/criticism —which is exactly what I’m doing right now… I love me some irony!
That’s enough negativity, though. Let’s talk about possible solutions. We need a widely accepted and exercised online etiquette. Enforcing rules or regulations are obviously not going to accomplish that. Those would go more along the way of laws, which most people hate in real life anyway. Etiquette is not a law but rather a social “agreement” among individuals. In my opinion, the “toxic” behavior that we often observe online stems from the structure of that digital environment. The opinionated users that I’ve mentioned above simply seek attention (sometimes in aggressive ways). The current structure demands drastic measures to get it. It feels like a race or a beauty contest almost. We’ve gotta get them clicks!… So, we make money by ad revenue. We’ve gotta get them likes!… So, we’re seen as an important figure with “strong” opinions. Hence, people resort to devious methods that seem “perfectly normal” on the internet to get them. I guess the first step would be to get rid of Like/Dislike exercise, which is common on social media (an approach suggested by a lot of people before and I totally support it). Do we really need to receive approval from other strangers to validate our own opinions? The Like/Dislike exercise turns everything into a competition. That particular video or tweet has more likes than this other one? Then, the opinion expressed in that particular video/tweet is of course “objectively” true… As if. That’s not what the definition of objectivity means with measurement —But, hey, whatever fits the narrative…
The second crucial step would be to get rid of… somehow… the ad revenue based on clicks. I’ve already talked about the nature of clickbait titles previously. Tricking people into clicking on articles or videos by false promises creates an unhealthy social environment. As we’ve discussed many times, we need to have a form of unanimous trust. The concept of clickbait is one of the biggest contributors to its destruction online. I do understand that website owners or other content creators need that ad revenue to stay in business, and I’m not saying that we should flat out cut that income. Rather, the ad revenue should be based on and calculated by something else; not simply by views. Unfortunately, I do not have a clear alternative at the moment… but sound minds always prevail, right?
If we were to take these two first steps, perhaps that needed etiquette could develop naturally over time. Doing something (regardless of expectation from its result) is always better than doing nothing and leave the things as they are. Is it too late to accomplish a successful etiquette online by now? I’d say, it’s never too late to become better human beings; “if there’s will, there’s a way”.