Twitterererer BloggersBlog earlier today microblogged about an article at that endeavored to explain why some people are more rude online than they are in real life. The article was entitled “Don’t Flame Me Bro'” and had me smiling. ^_^ there I go again.

Here's a cutting to give you an idea of what the article concludes:
Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity - a process called deindividuation - we are less likely to stick to social norms. For example, in the 1960s Leon Mann studied a nasty phenomenon called "suicide baiting" - when someone threatening to jump from a high building is encouraged to do so by bystanders. Mann found that people were more likely to do this if they were part of a large crowd, if the jumper was above the 7th floor, and if it was dark. These are all factors that allowed the observers to lose their own individuality.

Social psychologist Nicholas Epley argues that much the same thing happens with online communication such as email. Psychologically, we are "distant" from the person we're talking to and less focused on our own identity. As a result we're more prone to aggressive behaviour, he says.

I interpret this as a feeling of less or no responsibility. I got into an argument a few months back with a friend about how the FBI had arrested a man for distributing un-aired episodes of 24 on the Internet. The thing is, the argument happened online. I don't think it would have happened at all in person because both I and my friend are much more polite in person. See, I view my website as my sandbox. I do what ever I want here. I also have a clear sense of who I am and why I have this site. I know all about being responsible for everything about ThePete.Com. However, in the same way I'm the boss so I can also not care about what I do or say on here. As a result, I let more of my feelings out than I would if you were sitting here with me now and, likewise, I say much more of what I really think (though I am pretty honest in real life, too).

Of course, other people come to my site, or to other sites and they have the same sense that they can get away with whatever they want--because it's the Internet and largely anonymous. The catch is, that doesn't matter. When I go to someone's site and leave comments, I know that I'm leaving something in someone's living room. If it's a giant, steaming pile of dung, they're not going to welcome me back because it's a pain in the ass for them to clean up after me. I know this, because it's happened to me on countless occasions over the past ten years of running this site.

Sadly, there is no solution to this problem. On the Internet, as in life, ideally, you need to be conscious of your actions and how they effect others--yes, the consequences of your actions online are generally much less pronounced than your actions in the real world, but they exist nonetheless, even if you can't see them. It's the digital version of the Butterfly Effect.

As in the real world, there seems (to me, anyway) to be a jarring lack of responsibility being taken by most people in America these days. Whether it's corporate bigwigs failing to see the damage they're causing to people and the planet, or the asshole in the White House thinking "Move On Bloggers" are any less Americans than he is. Whether it's people downloading music for free or the people running music companies that get rich off of charging too much for too little, far too many of us are setting bad examples.

We're all connected, is my point. There are very few actions one person can take that will not effect someone else (even if it's not immediate) somewhere else. As such, we all need to be more conscious of how we act toward each other.

Ironically, that friend that I argued with about the FBI is no longer my friend--not because of that argument--but because of another blog-comment-battle about whether John Travolta should have been cast in the movie version of Hairspray. This is what it's come to. A friendship lost over something as ultimately stupid as who got cast in movie.

The Internet is indeed a powerful tool. It can create friendships and destroy them. It can save lives and it can end them. It can change the world for the better or it can leave it exactly the same.

It all depends on how we want to use the Internet.

What helps me be more responsible on the Web are the following:

1) Remember there's a difference between criticizing and complaining--the former is constructive and the latter is destructive.

2) Ask yourself if the thing you're about to do or say is something you'd want others to copy. Would you want 1000 other people leaving this kind of comment (on your website)? Every time you do something, someone else could view your actions as permission.

3) Pick your battles--don't fight them all. For every retarded argument about John Travolta you can have, there's a serious debate about the FBI you can also have. I ask myself, do I really want to be wasting time arguing this? Or is there another debate that I can waste time on and maybe learn something, too?

I don't always follow these points because I'm not perfect. The thing is, I do try to be responsible and, if that article is any indicator, there are a lot of other people out there who should be trying, too.