My favorite message board quote goes all the way back to a defunct site called skanjska.com. Someone contributed this gem:
Ska New Jersey Ska was my first introduction to the world of anonymous web posting. It was a fan site devoted to publicizing upcoming underground punk/ska shows taking place in firehouses, Elks’ lodges and VFW halls across the state. The message board was really an afterthought, but it soon turned from a place to talk about the latest albums and shows into an active web community in which people discussed music, movies, politics, religion, philosophy and pretty much anything else these burgeoning web users/ska fans could think of.
I met a lot of people through that old, rudimentary message board. It got to be that if you bumped into someone from the site at a show, you felt like you already knew them. But at the same time, giving a bunch of punk kids a venue to express their feelings led to some heated discussions, which often devolved into fruitless insults, threats of violence and requests for real names and addresses so that various ass-kickings could be doled out appropriately.
Not that much has changed about message boards in the last 10 years. Although we’ve pretty much given up on that last part – going to someone’s house and actually beating them up – we’ve become very familiar with the idea of anonymity. It emboldens us to spew our most hateful feelings in public places without fear of consequences.
In today’s highly charged political atmosphere, this spewing has grown into an all-out torrent. It’s one thing for adolescent punk rockers to hurl profanity at one another, but when seemingly respectable adults do it, it’s just depressing. I read today that the vitriol on Politico has gotten so out of hand that they are considering disabling the comments section altogether.
Most likely, the level-headed majority is being out-shouted by the more vocal minority of crazies. But the very nature of a comments section encourages this type of behavior. In the real-time world of the Web, our comments are instant, heated and often ridden with typos. We often find ourselves regretting something we wrote out of anger, in the heat of the moment. Or we become thick-skinned; we get used to angry speech and we grow immune to it. I am thankful that I retain enough of my humanity that Internet comments can still upset me enough to keep me up at night. But how long can that last?
The Internet has given us all a voice, but is anyone really listening? What good are these shouting matches? Are anyone’s opinions actually changed by something they read on a message board? Are we gaining a greater understanding of our differences, or are we just deepening the divide?
I think we have a responsibility not to abandon this sphere of communication, as distasteful as it may be. I’ve managed to at least strike a civil tone with many people who disagree with me by keeping a cool head and striving to understand their point of view, even if it seems outrageous. Acknowledging even a sliver of common ground can go a long way in establishing a respectful dialogue. Otherwise, what’s the point?
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