Thursday, October 22, 2015

Abuse as the Web's Greatest Challenge

Via a great article, which piqued my longstanding interest in Internet civility, Umair Haque argues that abuse is the greatest challenge facing the web, using Twitter's (alleged) decline as an example.

He writes:
"We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you…for eavesdropping on a conversation that they weren’t a part of…to alleviate their own existential rage…at their shattered dreams…and you can’t even call a cop. What does that particular social phenomenon sound like to you? Twitter could have been a town square. But now it’s more like a drunken, heaving mosh pit. And while there are people who love to dive into mosh pits, they’re probably not the audience you want to try to build a billion dollar publicly listed company that changes the world upon. 
The social web became a nasty, brutish place. And that’s because the companies that make it up simply do not not just take abuse seriously…they don’t really consider it at all. Can you remember the last time you heard the CEO of a major tech company talking about…abuse…not ads? Why not? Here’s the harsh truth: they see it as peripheral to their “business models”, a minor nuisance, certainly nothing worth investing in, for theirs is the great endeavor of…selling more ads." (emphasis added)
I have it said it before, but "politically incorrect" forums where Anything Goes are in a league of their own in terms of being hiveminds. While participants of such places proudly proclaim that they are promoting free expression of ideas, the ideas most freely being expressed emanate primarily from those most willing to tolerate abuse and intimidation.  The voices being lost because they don't want to subject themselves to hostile forums are not taken into account or, rather, are dismissed as coming from people who are too oversensitive to matter.

But also, comment moderation and the creation/enforcement of codes of conduct takes actual resources and have to be interpreted and enforced by imperfect humans.  The author of the above piece is exactly right in noting that we have created an abusive society in which abuse has been completely normalized.

And, when multi-billion and -million dollar companies do not effectively deal with or put adequate resources into addressing the abuse that thrives on the platforms they create, we who use the Internet all bear that cost.

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