Should We Teach Web Etiquette In School?

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Is there an established Web etiquette? The view of our online environment is unquestionably more Wild West than posh party of refined gentlefolk, but in the few decades of the existence of the Internet, we’ve managed to become a culture of snarling, bitter opinions digitally catapulted at message boards from the safety of our desks. Maybe it’s time for a collective attitude check.

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In a column posted to RealSimple.com Thursday, Real Simple’s Michelle Slatalla recalls the angry commenters that have repeatedly bruised her online self, saying she knows these are things no one would dare say to her in person, “But during the 12 years since I’ve been writing regular magazine and newspaper columns— about parenting and life and, now, etiquette—I’ve been barraged,” she wrote. “And it’s not just me; vitriol litters nearly any online comments section, no matter how innocuous the topic under discussion.” She’s been called an idiot (and worse), told that her children probably hate her and threatened – and all this to a writer from a pleasant-faced women’s magazine.

Her solution? Teach how-to Internet comment courses in schools. “Remember “business letter writing?” And “how-to-address-an-envelope-properly writing?” We need better writing skills to give us confidence we can use words to express ideas, not just insults,” she wrote. It’s an interesting idea. Now that Web communication has become such a integrated part of our lives, it would make sense that some sort of widely-agreed upon online etiquette should exist, but do where do we see message board lessons fitting in? After math? Probably not, though this is part of a larger discussion of Internet conduct. There are certain social norms we follow everyday: Don’t cut in line. Don’t be obscene in public. Don’t hurt anybody. These are simple rules we follow without much thought. But with the rise of the Internet chatroom/message board, we’ve become sneering, malicious abusers. Are we really that angry? Or, is it that our social oppression in the “real world” has us bottling up some serious rage?

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Either way, it’s clear we’ve got some things to work out. Until then, I’d like to remind you all of my choice 4Chan rule, by which I think we can all abide: “There will be no discussions of Ayn Rand.” Your compliance is appreciated.

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