In cyberspace everyone can hear you swear
People behave better online than in real life, moderating their language, respecting the views of others and being selective in their choice of invective.
That’s my conclusion after completing what I am claiming is the first definitive study on the language of building workers in a confined space, otherwise known as an online discussion board.
Thinking ourselves prudent, we decided to vet online messages of support for Ark Tribe, the Adelaide building worker facing jail for refusing to answer questions to the Building Commission , before we posted them online.
After all, these are the workers who sent the PM into a spin before the last Federal Election over their poor personal hygiene, lack of body image and colourful use of the vernacular.
These people would surely prove a menace if allowed access to the world wide web.
The results are somewhat disappointing for those looking for fruity language. Of 1288 comments received we recorded the following obscenities;
- 30 bastards,
- 14 bullshits,
- 10 f—-s,
- two buggars,
- one wanker
- and not a single arsehole on site.
As for the c—- word, a mere three; and interestingly, on every occasion proceeded by an f—- word. (not sure if there is an angle in here).
My point (apart from the gratuitous use of bad language to boost up readership figures)? The response was so lame the entire effort in moderating was probably a waste of time.
This touches on one of the fundamental debates as social media grows and more and more people have the opportunity to communicate directly.
Should we moderate discussions because we do not trust participants to behave, or should we let them run free and only flag problems participants once they cross certain lines?
First the case for moderation:
- You can’t trust people
- Online discussions are magnets for nutters WHO TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND SCARE THE SANE PEOPLE AWAY
- If someone defames someone on your site, you are up for big defamation costs
- People might criticise you (this is of particular concern to many of the political organisations I work for)
The case for free discourse:
- Trust begets trust
- As the community grows it will impose its own rules and isolate and banish those who abuse the rules
- The legal system is yet to come to terms with online communications; provided you promptly correct and remove defamatory material you will not be exposed
- Giving your critics a platform actually helps manage them. When they are locked out they build their own communities and that’s when they become dangerous.
This is not an academic debate, the way we construct our new online communities will shape the sort of world we live in.
Do we want a vision of 1984 where what you say is vetted before you say it? Or do we want a more authentic place, where even mad people can say what they think.
Indeed, are the mad bloggers actually crazy or just made that way be being locked out of the conversation for so long?
As anyone who is participating in the Punch understands, we are not just a broadcast media any more – we are at the point where information is starting to flow two ways.
Whether it’s Penberthy’s latest tweet or this column’s tenuous logic, you have a chance to fire straight back at us, even before our opinions have properly formed.
The value of a piece of media is no longer gauged just by what it says, but by how it is responded to. If you react you show it is valued. If it makes you swear, even better.
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