Monday, June 29, 2009

Road Rage on the Information Super Highway

Is the internet making people meaner? Or is it just giving people a chance to be mean without consequences, allowing them to channel their inner monsters in a fast and convenient way?

One of my friends who regularly appears on Hannity's Great American Panel, sent me an email he received after one of the shows; It was nasty, filled with personal attacks and vulgar references.

If you read the comments that follow many news stories on web sites for television stations and other news outlets, it is frightening to see what people post about people accused of crimes, local politicians, celebrities, and anyone else who happens to raise their ire. Veiled threats, accusations about the personal lives of the person in the news, hate speech, it's all there.

Jump on any forum and you will see posts filled with personal attacks on other posters; especially if they happen to disagree with the poster.

While I value free speech as much as anybody, it is funny that excercising that free speech is so much easier when you can remain hidden behind your keyboard. I don't think people would be so quick to say some of the things they do about a person if they were within nose-punching distance of their target.

It reminds me a lot of how agressive people can get when they are ensconced in the metal cocoon of their cars, safe from the other driver they are flipping off or tail-gating.

The anonymity of the internet gives people a feeling of invulnerability, making them more willing to say things they would not other wise say in a public forum. At least, that seems to be the case since there has not been an alarming jump in brawls and fisticuffs on the streets.

While the courts go to great lengths to protect the first amendment right of anonymous speech, it is not absolute as courts are now beginning to tackle serving anonymous defendants in internet harrassment and defamation cases.

Federal District Court Mandates the Disclosure of the Identity of Online Posters

States have passed or are considering passing cyberbullying laws and other protections for people who are the subject of on-line threats, defamation and harrassment.

I have to admit that some of the posts can be a bit amusing if you recognize the unintended irony that some poster's messages contain; "I think they should rip that guy's genitials off and feed them to the dogs while he watches. Be back in a few, got to check on the cookies I have in the oven for the grandbabies."

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