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opinions on the internetThe Internet is an interesting creature. I know I’m dating myself here, but sometimes I’m thankful that I had the opportunity during my life to personally experience the birth and growth of the Internet. Then, there are times when I wonder whether the evolution of that Internet is headed in the right direction today.

Why do I feel that way? It comes down to the nature of discourses on the web. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it seems as though discussions, debates, blog and forum comments, and other human interactions online are turning far more harsh, antagonistic and downright rude than ever before.

Here at MUO, we’ve recognized this aspect of the Internet, and responded with our own set of advice and tools to help you ward off those trolls. Saikat, in his wisdom, provided a set of 5 ways you can deal with arrogant trolls 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls 5 Most Effective Ways To Deal With Arrogant Internet Trolls The Internet is without doubt a great invention. Unfortunately, no one so far has been able to develop and anti-troll device that will help to make it a more civilized place. You might have come... Read More . I tried to help readers understand how comments can inadvertently come across as troll-like online 4 Types of Blog Comments That Make You Look Like a Troll [Opinion] 4 Types of Blog Comments That Make You Look Like a Troll [Opinion] One of the most fascinating things about writing professionally on the Internet for nearly a decade now is the progression of "commenting" that has evolved alongside the blogosphere. I was first introduced to the whole... Read More . Joel even saw fit to provide a three-part series – the MUO Toolkit against online trolls The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] How many Internet arguments have you witnessed? Or better yet, how many Internet arguments have you participated in? I visit a number of forums and communities on a daily basis, and I see arguments all... Read More .

Those are great articles, and I highly recommend Joel’s series in particular. However, what does it mean that we even need tools these days to ward off nasty people with no sense of common decency toward fellow human beings? Was it always that way?

Is the Internet Too Saturated With Opinions?

Digging deeper into the rudeness, is the root cause simply the fact that too many people are offering up their opinion on the Internet about every topic under the sun?

Were the early bulletin board systems of the sort created by Ward Christensen and Randy Seuss in 1978 for Chicago computer users anything like this? Was it just a madhouse of people posting their take on politics, religion and the universe? Was Fidonet, PEN (Public Electronic Network) and UseNet like this?

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Well, as anyone that experienced that era will tell you, the BBS systems were the reason the term “flame war” was created. Yes, people debated and argued, but for the most part, BBS systems were much more isolated communities of users that were interested in a particular topic that the BBS was built for. You had to specifically sign up for and dial into the BBS system to take part in the discussions there.

In the case of the University where I went to school, it was a BBS called FirstClass. There were discussion boards there that got pretty heated at times. I remember debating everything from gender issues to AIDS. But the thing there was that you knew who you were debating. You sat next to them in class, or you passed them on campus.

The likelihood of some random bloke strolling along, spotting your post, and shouting some rude quip like a heckler in a comedy club was far less likely back then. Even the “flame wars” back then had more substance and meaning to them.

From Isolated Island to a Global Community

These isolated communities of academics, students, and intellectuals eventually blended into the evolving and ever-connecting Internet.  The Internet – a place where Google or Bing now answers your query and delivers you immediately to the web page that it believes to be most relevant. No dial-up required.

The interesting thing is that this evolution didn’t immediately morph the Net into a melting pot of commentary. Organization was still maintained by a whole new entity – online forums.

opinions on the internet

Forums served the purpose of containing those topical communities. The same is true today. With forums, you still need to sign up usually – so there’s some insulation from the larger Internet community.  I had used the larger bulletin board systems like AOL, but was too busy with my first job that I didn’t get very involved with debates or many online discussions, but by 2005 I had some time on my hands, so I signed up at a large online forum devoted to fringe topics like Ufology and the paranormal.

Those years re-sparked my love of writing, and ignited the old fire of debate that I had enjoyed so much back in college. I remember taking part in one of the periodic “Debate Wars” that they held every few months at that forum. Among a pool of about 15 forum “fighters” (this is what the debaters were called), I fought my way through round after round of peer-judged debates to land in second place at the final debate.

too many opinions internet

What that time period meant to me – what those debates offered me – was a chance to exercise my intellect against another human with equal or greater intellect than mine. It demanded thoughtful consideration, careful research, and a mutual respect that even to this day I recall warmly.

Forums offered a camaraderie that is very difficult to explain to someone that has never experienced it. You got to know people at a level that goes beyond the superficial. You got to experience beautiful minds, without the prejudice of appearance.

I made some amazing friends at that place. I left it for good years ago, but a few of those people I still call my lifelong friends. I never even met them in person.

Facebook, Twitter and Blogs, Oh My.

Then came along Facebook. In bounded Twitter. Suddenly, in the span of just a few years, the floodgates opened. Families encouraged their elderly grandparents to get online so they can check out photos of their grandchildren on Facebook. Baby-boomers who previously had no inkling or desire to even use the Internet, were dragged into Facebook or Twitter by a younger family member.

At first, I cheered this on. To me, this represented an evolution of the Internet on a scale so much larger than the Internet boom of the 1990’s.  I mean, here, we had Internet adoption rates in record numbers, within demographics hardly represented online before Facebook. Women started outnumbering men on online gaming communities. Folks over 70 years old started venturing into forums and blogs that had never really experienced the presence of older folks before.

too many opinions internet

Cultures blended, the oceans separating countries suddenly shrunk down to puddle size, and the distance to my parents suddenly equaled the distance to my good friend in England. I could see what both were up to in the blink of an eye.

And the numbers grew, but that’s when the flood started.

I don’t know if it was two years ago, or last year, or maybe it only started this year – but the feeling that I get from this influx of status updates, Twitter tweets, Tumblr posts, Google plus updates, LinkedIn requests, Diggs, and now Pins – is that I had started out drinking cool, clear water from a garden hose, and  then suddenly that garden hose has metamorphosized into a fire hose.

I can’t breathe.

Is It Really All Driving Us Apart?

I’ve always prided myself in keeping up with the times when it came to Internet technology and progress, but just last week I watched as Facebook drove two friends nearly to blows – ending a long friendship over some ridiculous topic. Just this month I watched as a father and son started debating – no, fighting – about religion and homosexuality, for the entire Facebook community to see.

It’s difficult to watch what “opinion” can do to relationships – particularly when that opinion is offered in the cold, faceless world of cyberspace. A place where the ramifications of what you write to someone, or about someone, never really hit home until you see that person again, face to face, in the real world.

opinions on the internet

It’s these observations – maybe from an older and wiser vantage point – that have made me ease off on offering my opinions on my Facebook stream or my public Twitter account. I’m not so quick to take part in forum debates anymore. I cringe every time I see name-calling take place in blog comments, like those right here on MUO.

These observations – they scare me. They make me wonder if maybe, just maybe, in all of our desire to create this beautiful tool that would connect the globe and bring together the world community – we’ve actually given birth to a Frankenstein’s monster of ego, pride, hatred and animosity. Is it possible, that in our haste to connect the world, we’ve created a tool that may very well trigger the next world war?

I don’t know for certain, but I do wonder.

Of course, as is the way of the Internet, we also wonder what you think. Please share your own observations about online debates today, and whether you feel they do more to build hate than they do to build community. We’d love to read your thoughts on this in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Screen Horror via Shutterstock, Human Models Connected via Shutterstock, Portrait of a Politician via Shutterstock, Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com, Couple Fighting via Shutterstock

  1. bonioloff
    September 19, 2012 at 6:09 am

    Wow,, long article..
    At least i finished it..
    I just want to share my thought, Internet gives you more possibilities in live, communication, knowledge, new friend, new experience, new income, new car :D,..
    But it is also a place where many people can see you, who are you, what you do, many things about your family, almost anything you do... ==> if they want to..
    So use it wisely, keep a good reputation(by helping other and not giving bad words in forum or social network), and do not share anything if you can...
    It is perfect source to many bad person. :D

  2. johnbuk
    September 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Good article and something worth discussing. I'm 63, retired, play lots of golf and enjoy using my laptop and smartphone (a relatively cheap one I would add). For me the internet is one of the wonders of the world. It has the potential to give power back to the people in these days of democratic deficit (even in my country the UK). It certainly means the end of dictatorships and one-party states (China is trying to hold back the tide but will fail eventually). I never watch the TV now!
    Yes, the benefit of instant and uninterrupted communication throughout the world has a downside as you point out. But I genuinely believe, ultimately, it is a force for good.
    I don't have a Facebook or Twitter account (I did do some time ago but I think it's a generational thing as I couldn't really see the point of them in my lifestyle) but I do visit sites like MUO etc for advice and help re my computer interests. I''ve been a Linux user now for 5 years or so and have found people very helpful and willing to share their knowledge and time to ease my way into this OS. Sure, there are some unpleasant types but that's always been so no matter what the time or communication method. The internet is still in it's infancy and perhaps more importantly so are humans in their understanding of how it can best be used.
    Just like, letters, telephone et al the social niceties and techniques will be built up over time to take account of all these issues.
    Personally I believe the same advice re not feeding the Trolls stands as well for dealing with the unpleasant people that exist. Ignore them. Not easy but effective.

  3. Dave Parrack
    September 15, 2012 at 1:24 am

    But Ryan, what do you really think? I love the irony of this being an opinion piece, and you asking for others to add their opinion at the end.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 1:37 am

      MUO is clearly an Oasis within this vast desert of hate and discontent. :-)

  4. RH hassan
    September 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    internet discussion is good ........but sometime this discussion goes towards different directions ........some are bad and some are good

  5. Rahul
    September 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Amazing article Ryan and enjoyed reading it

    What i feel online debate has become a mess. In my experience i have rarely seen any forum where they are making a community to help each other or make friends. It's all about satisfying their ego on a particular topic to give them a sense a security that i know more than you. Facebook is an amazing platform to get connected with friends but the sad part is they are becoming the next forums. Debating is good for knowledge but it's bad when people put their opinions harshly. I generally refrain myself from forums and i truly agree we are going to have world war soon.
    I remember a very funny incident which happened to my student. In his Facebook status, he kept his relationship status single, but interested in dating. Surprisingly, his girlfriend discovered his status on dating aspect. Man, you can predict what happened next, a complete mess and a whole night fight on this issue. So the impact of FB is really high and one must be careful before giving his opinion. It's not your anymore. Everyone can see what you are doing.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 1:38 am

      Thank you Rahul. And I agree...if anyone wonders whether social media could spark a war, one only needs to look at what happened following the YouTube trailer of the Mohammad video...not a good situation all the way around.

  6. Donald V Dunham
    September 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Evolution must happen with all things, get over It.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 1:39 am

      Get over what?

  7. Mike McBride
    September 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    One other important factor is the concept of confirmation bias. Before the internet, we may have all had our own individually crazy ideas, or beliefs, but we mostly kept them to ourselves. There was always the fear that once it was spoken, we might discover that no one around us saw things the same way. Now, thanks to Google, pretty much any idea you can come up with, you can search and find people who share that idea, thus making it appear to be less crazy.

    Due to our own inherent desire to surround ourselves with people, and information, that confirm what we already believe to be true, we immerse ourselves in that information, thereby making anyone who disagrees with us into "them". Once we've started to dehumanize those who disagree with us in that fashion, it becomes all the more easier to be rude, to treat them poorly, and to demand policies that strip away their rights to speak, to spread their own information, nay to even exist.

    To truly make the internet community into what it could be, we will have to fight our own nature to lean toward confirmation bias, and group think. That will be difficult to do.

    • Ahmed Khalil
      September 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      I like your comment Mike, deep and strong, thanks for both the artical and comment

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 1:42 am

      Very well said, I couldn't agree more with this. I've noticed exactly what you described - a dehumanization of online personalities. It's like people forget that the individual they are interacting with is a living, breathing person with feelings and not some kind of fictional video game character...

    • Hsiung K
      February 7, 2013 at 5:38 am

      Mike, I agree with you. I experienced a troll on a series fan page attacking minor aspect of my comment that I was extremely careful to precede with "I find", or "for me". It was a wake-up call for me to realize that I was not in the company of fellow classmates with a professor acting as a moderator and grade giver. Sure, someone is bound is have a different view on a film or screenplay, but he or she readily explains the reason behind the disagreement based on the subject being discussed (to impress the teacher for a grade). The Internet is a free-for-all (if one can access it), but it does not guarantee a pleasant experience from being in a room with people under the control of a paid moderator, professor, or facilitator. This is my constant reminder to myself. :)

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