Lately, perhaps because it’s bully awareness month, there has been a stir of discussion about rude online behavior and bullying online, etc. This is all very legitimate and important stuff. It’s an important stage in developing online discourse and netiquette. We need to teach people how to treat eachother all over again in our virtual lives.
I think about online behaviors all the time because I run a virtual reference chat service. Visitor information is completely protected so our visitors are anonymous and can feel comfortable getting info or research help on any topic. As a result, you can imagine the myriad of inappropriate behavior we get. My job is to make sure staff remain empowered while managing it appropriately. They do a great job.
One of the named reasons for inappropriate behavior is the “feeling” of anonymity people have which leaves them more uninhibited than if they were to be interacting in the flesh or voice to voice. As a result, the idea of acting in an uninhibited way is taking on a negative connotation. Let’s not be absolute about it. People need to express themselves. It sucks when they aren’t kind when completely uninhibited, but the hard truth is that’s a facet of who they are.
Some of us are introverts in the flesh, but extroverts in the online medium. As a result, this expression in the online medium is an empowering positive release for those times we would otherwise feel inhibited. This duality or daily (im)balance or spectrum of expression is ok. We are complex life forms with different expressions of our personalities and we have the freedom to do so.
Ideally we do so in an honest and kind way, without being inappropriate.