Tim Danton just wants the online world to be a nicer place. But will it ever happen? You. Youa fool. Yes, you. You think that shirt matches your trousers? You must be kidding. And your hair! Words fail me. How you can even have the gumption to open your front door and walk out in the morning is beyond me. So, how was that for you? Offended? Irritated? Throwing this magazine at your fellow commuter in disgust? It unlikely, I agree. But believe me, it would be a different matter online. The things we say, the things we believe we can get away with saying, are simply incredible. Take this exchange on a PC Pro blog about Illegal downloads, where David Bayon, our deputy reviews editor, wrote that, "Stargate Atlantis is rubbish. This is a fact." To David, it seemed fairly obvious this sentence was a joke. And the rest of the blog was littered with humour, too. This tongue-in-cheek approach didn t work, however. What followed was a 71-comment thread, which included such highlights as Bayon is a dipsh[sic]. That is a fact.”(Indeed, he is, but I had no idea how the commenter realised. Would this have happened if David was down the pub with a few friends and made the same comment? Apparently not. you[anonymous] that really raises the ante of bullying and aggressiveness,”Patricia Wallace, author of The Psychology of the Internet, told me. can draw out the most amazing characteristics, and people are surprised by their own behaviour." Another big problem with the internet is that almost all the communication is written. Aside from the blunt and annoying instrument known as smilies, there are few ways to express emotion. “(In face-to-face meetings] you can use a wink, a slowing down of the voice, all sorts of cues to suggest that youbeing ironic or youtrying to be witty," said Patricia. online, you have this very clumsy tool to manage your own impression and to do that communication, and that the Qwerty keyboard.” When it comes to using this tool, some people are clumsier than others. In fact, some probably shouldn be allowed to use email at all. I can think of several people Iworked with who have brought others to tears with emails they ve sent. On one occasion, someone sent a detailed, three-page email explaining exactly why that person was failing at their job. What happened when they later spoke face-to-face? The sender of the email said, , I didnt mean it like that.”Well, no, perhaps you didn t, but that precisely how your words were taken.
Nor is this rudeness confined to communication. For example, I occasionally play Scrabble on Facebook against people I donknow. In the game, you each have a certain amount of time to take your turn —two minutes, five minutes, a day or even a week. If you go past your time limit, your opponent can ”you, skip your turn so they take it instead, or force forfeit —so they win the game. I tend to play the one-day games, and when work or real life gets in the way, sometimes I go over that one-day limit. What I cancomprehend is the number of people who will force the forfeit: I d say itabout 80% of my opponents. When this last happened, my frustration got the better of me and I fired off this message via Facebook: Donna —why did you cancel the game? I was late with one turn, and you decided you should win? I know this is within the rules of the online game, but ithardly within the spirit” To which Donna replied (to my surprise): , youabsolutely right. No, it s not within the spirit of the game. Maybe the tons of people who have done it to me have left me rather cynical." Well, evidently. But Donna —probably a lovely person in real life —is yet another example of what happens when people cloak themselves in the anonymity of the internet. will be very shark-like with others in these competitive games, even when it would be in their Interest to trust the other partner so you could win together," explained Patricia. you donknow the person youplaying against, the more likely you are to use some radical tricks and do things you wouldndo in person." Can we hope that things will improve? think things are getting better," said Patricia. seen communities completely fall apart because of lack of trust and flame wars, and I do think that happening less. People are getting savvier about things like risk. I still amazed how people donget the fact that anything they put on the net is traceable... and it archived forever." So, I suggested, the only reason things are going to get better is because we losing anonymity and realising that our behaviour has consequences? "That right.” Which may be true, but it also a little bit depressing.