I liked David Mitchell’s column in Sunday’s Observer about the torrents of personal abuse and naked aggression that seems to be unleashed in those who post comments on newspaper articles and blogs. His suggestion is that the sane and reasonable among us should post “It just goes to show you can’t be too careful” whenever threads seem to be taking a nasty turn, in the hope that it will exert a calming influence. Pleasingly his column is now the most popular on the Guardian site with a string of more than 1400 posts, all saying the same thing, meandering over a couple of pages of virtual space.
Not that I’m a victim of this myself, in this safe and stodgy backwater of wordpress’s empire; but for various reasons I’ve been looking at the message boards on a number of sites about civil liberties and the “surveillance state” recently. Frankly I’ve rarely come across a bunch of people I would like less to be trapped in a lift with – and it depresses me hugely because it’s a really important subject and the Convention on Liberty which kicked off my recent reading was addressed by almost every person in public life I still respect. Some of the comments however – jeez. When did reasoned argument, respect for the facts and a willingness to see another person’s point of view cease to be the way that political points are made? (I know I sound like Colonel Blimp as I type this, but one of the points of that rather wonderful film is that we lose the civilty that Blimp stands for at our peril. I cling defiantly to my status as a crusted bore.)
I love the idea that technology offers a democratising tool by which everyone can take part in public debate. But blimey, we need to get our acts together and start using it like grown ups before the whole process is so degraded that it is easily ignored.