Tuesday, May 12, 2009

P-D LTE "Internet: A safe haven for hate speech"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a letter to the editor today that I fully agree with. David Grone articulates a problem that I have seen all too frequently on-line. With the anonymity provided by the internet people are sometime much more hurtful, hateful, and harsh that they ever would be in person and it has degraded the discourse.
Internet: A safe haven for hate speech

As a long-time reader of the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, I am disturbed by the behavior of some commentors on online news stories. Unfortunately, this behavior is rampant on the Internet.

Have we regressed so much that it is OK to post the sorts of things some people do on these stories? Whether it is mocking the deceased in a tragic death, condemning someone for a crime long before any evidence comes to light, spewing racist hatred at any story involving a particular part of town or simply attacking fellow commentors with hateful insults, it makes me sick to think these things come from the minds of fellow citizens of this community.

Would any of the people who do this anonymously ever say such things directly to a person's face — or even out loud in public? I hope not, and I doubt they would. If people spoke in a forum that required them to show their face and/or have their real name attributed to it, one of two things would happen. Either a lot of simple-minded, Internet "tough guys" would disappear or we would get a real glimpse into what is happening to our culture when a me-first, too-cool-for-the-room, smart-aleck attitude is the rule of the day. It seems like the Internet has become a safe haven for hate speech that in any other medium would be punishable by law.

Human nature is to "think before you speak." I recommend we extend that rule to include "think before you type."

I shudder to think how hateful and self-centered we will be years from now if these opinions and exaggerations are allowed to flow freely.

David Grone — St. Louis County
There have been some who have advocated for an internet in which all communication is tied to a person's real name in an attempt to address this. Regardless of the appropriate solution, it is clearly a problem.

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