Well, I warned ya I was hung up on ethics on the internet. I obviously still am.
Another dissimilarity between real life and the internet is that in real life, much of our relating with others is by oral communication, whereas the predominance of internet relations is by writing.
This has created a curious hyper-technical definition within our ethics that is not present in real life. See, in oral communication, we very quickly forget what was said. Without a record, there is no possible way to verify what someone claimed only a few minutes ago. But the ‘net is forever…
If I claim, “I never said that Christians don’t read their Bibles” all it takes is a googlewhack of a few of my regular haunts and out pops a quote from me in 2003 in which I said (uh-oh!) “Christians have ceased reading their Bibles.” Now the accusations of lying come out!
Can you imagine if we were held to everything we said? And if we ever stated something differently, the accusation of “lie” is charged, convicted and punished with almost instantaneous fervor?
Worse, this technical accusation has become nit-picky. I find it a matter of supreme irony as to how horrible our spelling has become, thanks to the computer and spell-checker. (And yes, I am one of those who types out “rythm” and then lets the spell-checker figure out the right spelling for me. Oh, stop it! You do it, too!) Yet, conversely, we often see another person criticized for mis-spelling a word, as a sign of their stupidity, and reason to disregard their entire comment.
We have brought it upon ourselves, yet are holding others to an even higher standard!
And now that we have the ability to recall and record every single letter, word, paragraph and punctuation, people have learned to us it to their advantage. The internet has created a “technical ethic” where we are able to come so, so close to some imaginary line, but as long as we don’t “technically” cross it—we consider ourselves saints of purity.
Who hasn’t seen this take place?
Bob: I think that Gore would make a good Attorney General.
Jane: Only the most stupid would consider Al Gore fit for a government position.
Bob: Hey—you called me stupid!
Jane: No, I didn’t call you stupid, only those who hold to Al Gore working in the government. If you desire to think that…well…that is your choice.
We have become masters at NOT calling a person something, yet making it crystal clear we most certainly are.
“Perhaps you have failed to study even the basic mathematics required of a child selling lemonade in a stand at the side of the road.”
See how that “perhaps” absolves the person of any crime? Oh, sure, we all get that the one person is calling the other a cretin—but if accused, they could avoid all accusations by saying “Technically I didn’t say that. I was just asking.”
Riiiiggghhhhttt. And we all appreciated your concern. (Envision much sarcasm here.)
We know what sockpuppets are. It is when a person sets up two accounts on the same forum, and then uses one to bolster the other. All of a sudden “Petee” is agreeing with and telling the world how wise “Speaking Ministry of Blake” is. (Two actual sockpuppet names for the same person.)
Apparently, as the internet ethic developed, having a sockpuppet is a no-no. We all decry that as violating some unseen rule.
O.K. So what if I join a forum. And I don’t like what I see. I decide to gang up on one poster. I recruit my friends. I feed them what to say. Any Private Messages, or e-mails I receive from the moderators or other posters I forward on to my friends to “keep them informed.” I ask them to post against this person every chance they can.
I guess “technically” I have not violated the sockpuppet rule. “Technically” my friends can post what they like, and I am free to forward messages to whomever I choose. But have I violated the spirit of the sockpuppet rule?
I can’t think of a correlation to the sockpuppet law in real life. We don’t have it. Yet it is certainly alive and well in internet-world. And in a new world, with a new ethics—what I see is emphasis on hyper-technicality. The conscious choice to create a line, and then see how close one can get. As long as one does not very specifically cross over—then one has conformed to the ethic.
Are we retreating to form over substance?