Nasty Discourse or Incentives

Fascinating article on MSNBC.com today, related to the decline in public discourse because of the web.

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When a California woman recently gave birth to a healthy baby just two days after learning she was pregnant, the sudden change to her life was challenging enough. What April Branum definitely didn’t need was a deluge of nasty Internet comments.

Postings on message boards made cracks about Branum’s weight (about 400 pounds — one reason she says didn’t realize sooner she was pregnant). They also analyzed her housekeeping ability, based on a photo of her home. And they called her names. “A pig is a pig,” one person wrote. Another suggested that she “go on the show ’The Biggest Loser.”’

“The thing that bothered me most was, people assumed because I am overweight, I’m going to be a bad mom,” Branum says. “And that is not one little bit true.”
It was yet another example of how the Internet — and the anonymity it affords — has given a public stage to people’s basest thoughts, ones that in earlier eras likely never would have traveled past the watercooler, the kitchen table or the next barstool.

The main issue here really is not the decline in public discourse but rather without the proper incentives, people can be nasty. Unlike in real-life communities, where there is a price to be paid for venting and being negative, on the web, which allows participation without geographical limitations, people have no incentive to curb their desire to be nasty. This leads to comments like the ones experienced by the mother in the snippet above. What we need is a better way to provide right incentives and to filter out the commenters that are not adding value to the community. What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Nasty Discourse or Incentives

  1. Your point is valid. But i guess it narrows people’s freedom to some extent. You are pointing that main reason which made internet so popular, has it flaws. I would say,any remarkable innovative idea has it own kind of reactions. What’s appropriate for one, may be inappropriate for other. I would prefer receivers to be more resilient than curbing the commentors. Keeping inside all the bitterness is what makes people so “wanting to be nasty”.

  2. Zeya, good point…

    But on the other hand, now that Internet is becoming more and more mainstream, isn’t is necessary to have some kind of checks and balances. Without it a lot of social media is losing a lot of its value, as a huge number of readers can’t tell “Signal” from the “Noise”.

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