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Manners on the internet

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9 Responses

  1. Rob Hyndman says:

    The issue is about more than “rudeness”, as an exploration of what happened in the Sierra case will demonstrate. In that case, and many others, what is said would probably stun the average person. And of course this happens over and over again elsewhere on the net every day. The NYT piece is merely reheating a brisk discussion on this issue, particularly since the Sierra issue. More details at Techmeme, and in a recent post at Michelle Malkin’s blog.

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    It might be useful to think of how desirable social norms are reinforced, generated, and maintained. If we don’t want to go so far as to disallow rudeness, meanness, and perversity (I’ve never quite understood why libertarian sensibilities serve as a baseline assumption), we might at the very least see what we can do to discourage or counter Augustinian and Hobbesian conceptions of ‘man’ lest they serve as self-fulfilling prophecies (thanks Frank!). Alas, we’ve plenty of daily reminders of what ‘stinkers’ we are or at least can be, perhaps it’s time we establish norms and models that are worthy of imitation and emulation, that set a more elevated tone or encourage a more virtuous ethos.

  3. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    It might be useful to think of how desirable social norms are reinforced, generated, and maintained. If we don’t want to go so far as to disallow rudeness, meanness, and perversity (I’ve never quite understood why libertarian sensibilities serve as a baseline assumption), we might at the very least see what we can do to discourage or counter Augustinian and Hobbesian conceptions of ‘man’ lest they serve as self-fulfilling prophecies (thanks Frank!). Alas, we’ve plenty of daily reminders of what ‘stinkers’ we are or at least can be, perhaps it’s time we establish norms and models that are worthy of imitation and emulation, that set a more elevated tone or encourage a more virtuous ethos.

  4. Frank says:

    Very interesting ideas…I think much depends on whether the expression of rudeness just lets off steam, or in fact leads to a practice of rudeness that effectively ingrains the habit of being rude into the person who “pops off.”

    In other words, does rudeness in internet forums “spillover” into other walks of life? Or does the rude person compensate for their genteel-ness in the rest of life by unleashing the id on the net? Jon Elster has some interesting thoughts on how Tocqueville uses this “spillover/compensation” tension to explain the effects of different social practices.

    One last thought–I wonder how many peopel know how flimsy their internet “ring of gyges” is. IP tracking is pretty common nowadays.

  5. Alice says:

    Thanks for the comments. The NYT article is entitled “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs.” It opens with the question, “Is it too late to bring civility to the web?” There may be more than “rudeness” involved in some blogosphere disputes, but I meant to address ill-mannered speech. As I noted in comments at Prawfsblawg, there is plenty of room between good manners and illegality. American law has consistently and repeatedly distinguished between speech that may be penalized as defamation or a criminal threat and speech that is simply uncivil or ill-mannered. I think it’s worth preserving this distinction.

    I also noted at Prawfs that I think our judgments about what is “uncivil” are often bound up with the substance of the comments. Civil disagreement is certainly possible, of course, and some uncivil speech articulates no ideas at all. But when speech does articulate an idea, I think we’re somewhat more likely to find it uncivil if we also disagree with its content. That makes me a little wary of Patrick’s call to “set a more elevated tone.”

  6. Dan Markel says:

    Alice, thanks for the clarification as to what you meant re: the scope of rudeness. As my post tried to make clear, I wasn’t sure how far your taste for allowing rudeness would go given your initial post.

  7. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Alice that ‘there is plenty of room between good manners and illegality,’ and my call to ‘set a more elevated tone’ hardly rules out the possibility that folks might be prone to accusations of uncivility if content rubs them the wrong way. I think we’re perfectly capable of adjudicating matters of (or questions of) morals and manners without the State or a Church, and this is set in motion in part through the ethos of exemplars I envision the tone referred to here being entrenched over a long period of time through noncoercive social norms, and thus need not involve any heavy hand of censorship or oppressive rules of one sort or another. Nevertheless, it takes some thought, imagination and effort to plant such norms and those who run blogs could set an example. In other words, perhaps we can develop the blogospheric *analogue* of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters (Thus, Dan Markel, Daniel Solove and Ann Bartow, for example, could bring to mind the exemplary guidance of a Marie-Therese Geoffrin, or a Julie de Lespinasse, or a Suzanne Necker! My picture of these remarkable women is beholden to Dena Goodman’s The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (1994). Those tired of all-things-French, might look at David Shields’ Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (1997)). Consider, if you will, the following from Steven Kale’s French Salons: High Society and Political Sociability from the Old Regime to the Revolution of 1848 (2004):

    ‘…[T]he salon was able to accommodate activities and anticipate forms of interaction that were being created by protracted historical pressures but had yet to be sanctioned by convention or law. This is why most attempts to move beyond definitions of the salon or descriptions of ideal types of sociability slip into analogy: the salon was like a royal court, a university, an academy, a republic, a monarchy, a publishing house, a medium of communication, or some other institution or practice whose function was ambiguous and to which contemporary society had yet to attach a name. Salons could be either marginal or mainstream, bourgeois or aristocratic, courtly or enlightened, hierarchical or democratic, mixed or exclusive, public or private, feminist or masculinist, leisurely or “work-like,” frivolous or serious, literary or political, or both. In all this confusion, one things seems clear: in the French context at least, salons always filled some sort of institutional vacuum at the intersection between public and private life left by the decline of certain cultural, social, or civic institutions and the rise of others that had not yet taken root.’

  8. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Alice that ‘there is plenty of room between good manners and illegality,’ and my call to ‘set a more elevated tone’ hardly rules out the possibility that folks might be prone to accusations of uncivility if content rubs them the wrong way. I think we’re perfectly capable of adjudicating matters of (or questions of) morals and manners without the State or a Church, and this is set in motion in part through the ethos of exemplars I envision the tone referred to here being entrenched over a long period of time through noncoercive social norms, and thus need not involve any heavy hand of censorship or oppressive rules of one sort or another. Nevertheless, it takes some thought, imagination and effort to plant such norms and those who run blogs could set an example. In other words, perhaps we can develop the blogospheric *analogue* of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters (Thus, Dan Markel, Daniel Solove and Ann Bartow, for example, could bring to mind the exemplary guidance of a Marie-Therese Geoffrin, or a Julie de Lespinasse, or a Suzanne Necker! My picture of these remarkable women is beholden to Dena Goodman’s The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (1994). Those tired of all-things-French, might look at David Shields’ Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (1997)). Consider, if you will, the following from Steven Kale’s French Salons: High Society and Political Sociability from the Old Regime to the Revolution of 1848 (2004):

    ‘…[T]he salon was able to accommodate activities and anticipate forms of interaction that were being created by protracted historical pressures but had yet to be sanctioned by convention or law. This is why most attempts to move beyond definitions of the salon or descriptions of ideal types of sociability slip into analogy: the salon was like a royal court, a university, an academy, a republic, a monarchy, a publishing house, a medium of communication, or some other institution or practice whose function was ambiguous and to which contemporary society had yet to attach a name. Salons could be either marginal or mainstream, bourgeois or aristocratic, courtly or enlightened, hierarchical or democratic, mixed or exclusive, public or private, feminist or masculinist, leisurely or “work-like,” frivolous or serious, literary or political, or both. In all this confusion, one things seems clear: in the French context at least, salons always filled some sort of institutional vacuum at the intersection between public and private life left by the decline of certain cultural, social, or civic institutions and the rise of others that had not yet taken root.’