There’s a cartoon in which a person is sitting at their computer. Their partner asks why they don’t come to bed, and the person responds ‘Because someone on the internet is wrong!’ I’ve witnessed many disagreements on internet forums that degenerate into infantile name-calling or even outright aggression. Neither party is willing to back down or let the matter rest; they absolutely must win the argument. And so the bickering continues, until one side finally grows tired, or flounces off, or there is a power cut.
Why are people so vocal on the Internet, to the point of being rude and aggressive? Is it as simple as forgetting that there is a person behind the words? I wonder if the words take on a life of their own, and so in pursuing the argument each person is beating up the words of the other, since they can’t reach the person who has written the words. But this doesn’t explain why people behave in a way that they simply would not in real life.
Most people are simply not aggressive enough to argue face to face as vehemently as they may do on the Internet. So why do they so often find themselves involved in a heated dispute online?
The anonymity of the internet must have a lot to do with this online aggression. Most forums and comment sections are moderated, but there is limited scope for dealing with transgressors. The account may be terminated, but many will simply start up a new online alias. Those who are determined to express hatred, anger and bile will always find an online outlet. And even people who would normally consider themselves to be balanced and polite are capable of losing their temper when they perceive someone else to be wrong.
Maybe it’s simply that the online world allows everyone a voice – even if that voice is several degrees louder than in real life. Is this our democratic right? And is it our democratic right to tell others when we consider they are being an asshole? Is the downside of free speech that we have to allow assholes a voice? We may feel obliged to challenge them and stand up for what we believe or defend others, but there comes a point at which it is wiser to just walk away from the computer. Let them be wrong. You can’t win every argument.