The Idea Dude


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Web etiquette or lack thereof

As social networking on the Internet continues to grow, the problems related to free speech and slander become increasingly controversial. Take RateMDs for example, like any other profession, there are good apples and bad apples. Allowing people to rate their doctors is becoming highly contentious. If it was RateMyPolitician, I would guess no-one would bat an eyelid. Apparently there are sacred cows in our society. Today, I heard on the radio some students in an Ontario school were disallowed from attending a school trip because of discussions they had on Facebook regarding certain teachers. This follows another incident also involving Facebook and students. None of these conversations are new, we've had them over coffee, in the schoolyard but what is new is that now that discussion is public. The web brings about a transparency that is unsettling to many.

The irony is that many of these digital conversations have always existed. Over the last 2 decades, if you were a reader of newsgroups and forums, you would find similar rants and raves about people and products. I guess what's different is that most of these tirades has been targeted at public figures or people who opt in to be part of the conversation. As a politician, celebrity or CEO, you would accept your fair share of criticism whether it was fair or not, that was part of the game. The tough part is in today's Internet anarchy, private individuals are unwittingly and unwillingly dragged onto center stage. The second part is exposure, limiting criticism to a small group is tolerable to most people, being exposed rightly and wrongly to potentially millions of people is not. So where is the fine line between free speech and violation of other people's rights?

In the past, physical limitations have made it easier to avoid things you didn't want to see, i.e. don't visit a particular neighbourhood, don't watch that channel. Unfortunately, the web is too linear and unstructured, it is hard for a day to go by where 50% or more of what's in my inbox or browser are things I didn't need or want to see.

I think the Wild Wild Web just got a little wilder...don't you?


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