June 15, 2019

Bad Behaviour Online

  —We’ve failed to realize the Internet’s promise of cooperation and communication.

In Giving Up More Than You Realize with Twitter (Part 2), I discuss how ill-considered Tweets were career ending for the people involved. Regardless of how you feel about the rightness or wrongness of their Tweets it’s astonishing how much abuse those people recieved.

In What causes good people to turn bad online?, Gala Vince writes:

There is overwhelming evidence that women and members of ethnic minority groups are disproportionately the target of Twitter abuse.

Nothing new here.

While we generally conduct our real-life interactions with strangers politely and respectfully, online we can be horrible. How can we relearn the collaborative techniques that enabled us to find common ground and thrive as a species?

Good question.

Gala’s thesis is that we’ve failed to realize the Internet’s promise of cooperation and communication. We’ve failed to realize this promise because being online reduces our need to cooperate.

She goes on to say social media has weak institutions (or rules) and that there are few reputational or punitive risks for bad behaviour. Essentially, people don’t have a set of rules to govern their behaviour and the consequences of doing so are virtually non-existent.

There is also evidence that moral and emotional words are more likely to spread on social media. Content that triggers outrage is likely to trigger more outrage and be shared.

The article goes on to say that social media platforms might benefit from providing people with control over who they connect too. The idea appears to be that you start with an open network and then disconnect from people you don’t like. Not sure how that’s going to work out given that it’s counter-intuitive to the notion of the promise of cooperation and communication.

A better idea discussed in the article is to add some sort of reputational cost in the form of a social punishment. This seems closer to real life, but doesn’t address the problem that an algoritm needs to be designed to do this.

I like the promise and the notion that cooperation and reputation are missing. Hopefully, we don’t us a broken notion of reputation like the Black Mirror Nosedive episode (Series 3, Episode 1).

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