Today’s ‘assignment’ (sort of self-imposed) from this morning’s Social Media Breakfast was to complete the following sentence:
I am taking a stand for civil online discourse because…
OK, the ‘assignment’ is certainly on-topic (given that the topic of today’s meeting was cyber-bullying, and what we could do to address it.) And, one would think the answer is a no-brainer. However, appearances can be deceiving: giving a thoughtful response takes, well, thought. Also, time. And, care. Because, to treat this too flippantly/irreverently would tend to diminish the power that a properly crafted statement would have, while to treat this too seriously would probably cause people to wonder “What type of wild hair got lodged up your butt, dude?” and wander off, causing me to wonder “If a blogger falls down in the forest, and no one is around to hear…” Or something like that.
But seriously, I had to put some time into this one. Because, while I knew pretty much what I wanted to say, figuring out how to put the words down for maximum effect was a more difficult undertaking. However *breathes deeply* here goes:
I am taking a stand for civil online discourse because… it is the right thing to do. I have lived, and travelled, in different parts of the world. I have associated with a very diverse group of people representing many cultures, during my lifetime. Because of this, I have come to the conclusion that yes, we in the USofA have something very special going on, something which is founded upon our ability, and willingness, to engage in rational, civil discourse with one another. Failing to stand up to those who seek to derail civil discourse opens us up to a type of anarchy, changing our conversation into an endless series of sound bites (bytes?) and shouting matches. Failing to stand up for those who are the victims of the cyber-bully does nothing but enable and empower those cowards to continue to wreak havoc on their prey, and ultimately on all of us.
I am very much a fan of the First Amendment (much as I am of all of them, the notable exception being the 18th.) I do not support a legislative solution to the problems brought about by the rise of the cyber-bully, and the corresponding fall of the level of civility in the national conversation. However, this does not mean we are powerless to act, and must sit by silently and allow the shrill voices of the ****-stirrers to carry the field. There are many things that we can do, and over the next however-many-weeks-it-takes I will discuss various aspects of those things which tend to erode the level of civility in online discussions, and give some thoughts on things we can do to counteract their effects.
Now, you may be asking, what does this have to do with home computer security? After all, this isn’t the same as needing to run anti-virus on your PC, or have a firewall, or change your passwords periodically… so, what gives? It may take a bit of explaining, but in a nutshell: cyber-bullying, in its many and varied forms, is an assault on your personal security, every much as if the schoolyard bully came up to you, shoved your face in the mud, and took your lunch money (not that this ever happened to me…) We know, from a large number of tragic news accounts, what can happen to those who are the victims of cyber-bullying. Yes, it is true that “the pen is mightier than the sword” (though getting run through with a sword can be pretty painful, as well as highly lethal.) With the freedom of speech that the First Amendment guarantees, comes the responsibility to use this power wisely. This is a responsibility every bit as important as making sure the patches and A/V definitions are up to date.
Coming up: the “five faces of online crazy”, and how they poison civil discussion.
(cross-posted on eTee Too)