David Trinko: A call for civility on the Internet

First Posted: 4/3/2011

We live in a society where you can have a different opinion, yet you don't have to worry about some stranger yelling at you, calling you an idiot or a moron.Or do we?There's a land as close as your nearest computer where people you'll never meet feel perfectly comfortable yelling those things and much fouler variations of them. It's the land of the Internet comments section. We have one on The Lima News' website, LimaOhio.com. One of my duties is to look through the complaints in the comments every day, taking down messages that violate the agreement between the users and the newspaper.To be perfectly honest, it's the thing I hate most about my job.The idea of allowing people to converse about stories they've read is wonderful. I love the free press. I love the marketplace of ideas. I love intelligent conversation, even when people disagree.That's the utopian version of it all, though. The reality often resembles a sandbox full of angry toddlers.If you read through the user agreement, it boils down to two key points: Posters agree not to swear, and users agree not to threaten anyone.Believe it or not, some people have trouble following those two key points. Oh-so-clever people get around the swear-word filter built into the website by substituting dollar signs for S's, exclamation points for L's and other witty substitutions. Others try to get around it by using well-known Internet acronyms that include swear words.Dutifully, other readers report them, popping them up on a list of posts for me to review. And dutifully, I'm forced to remove perfectly intelligent posts because someone had to metaphorically refer to someone else as a donkey.I have a blog on our site, Trinko Thinks So, where I post several times a week. I try to avoid calling other users derogatory names. I genuinely believe in the phrase, “We'll have to agree to disagree.”Sadly, that idea can be lost online. We've seen many people try to join the conversation, making well-reasoned points, only to be shouted down by someone with rude, crude language.I often feel as though I'm punished as the monitor of the sandbox, not the marketplace of ideas. People feel the urge to needle one another instead of sticking to the topic at hand and winning disagreements with valid points.Just as frustrating as the people who try to slip around the rules are those who don't understand them at all. There are users who flag a message any time another user disagrees with them, saying it's hate speech or a personal attack.The trick is finding that right balance. People need to have a thicker skin and be open-minded. They also must control themselves and their words. As every parent will agree, words really can hurt if they're used wrong,This is my plea to make the Internet a better place to communicate ideas: Treat the Internet like real life. Don't just start shouting obscenities. Don't resort to childish name-calling. Don't contribute unless you have something worth contributing.Show restraint and manners in both your online and in-person endeavors. The world will be a better place for it.You can comment on this column at www.LimaOhio.com.

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