How do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?

Lisa Owen finished her interview with Jon Ronson on The Nation about public shaming – see Ronson on online shaming – asking “How do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?”

One way to do this is to create and maintain kinder places, and I like to think that’s what we have done here with Your NZ.

Another way is to keep reminding yourself that the name or pseudonym you might feel like attacking is usually associated with a real person who is possibly much like yourself. Feelings and reactions can be difficult to exprewss and easy to ignore in cyber conversations, especially with the tight character restrictions that Twitter imposes.

Lisa Owen: how do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?
Well, I think conversations like this. I mean, my book came out; Monica Lewinsky came out with a TED talk which I thought was wonderful. Good, important thinkers like Glenn Greenwald are kind of jumping on it too.

And I think if— I think the best thing that can happen is if you see an unfair or an ambiguous shaming going on, speak up. Say something about it. And it’s going to be no question that the shamers will turn on you, and, believe me, I’ve experienced that over the past few months, but it’s the right thing to do. Because a babble of voices talking back and forward about whether something’s deserved or not, that’s democracy.

I think that speaking up and confronting bad and nasty online behaviour is important. Sometimes it works. If you get in early you can sometimes shut down online bullying or at least swing the debate to a more even battle rather than a mob attack against one.

But it has it’s risks. I know this from experience over the past few years that I have been actively involved in blogs and to a lesser extent Twitter.

I’ve been banned from Whale Oil, Public Address and from Dim Post for speaking up against what I thought was awful, or presenting a view that ran against the forum.

I’ve been banned a number of times from The Standard. This has usually involved me standing my ground against mob attacks until the ‘moderator’ pings me for ‘disrupting the blog’ – which is exactly the intent of the attacks tactics used against me (and others, it was a common means of shutting down and kicking out alternative voices there).

Despite commenting at Kiwiblog far more than anywhere else I haven’t been banned from there, but I have also been subjected to mob attacks, some insiduous threats, either misguided or malicious ongoing criticism and deliberate lying smears lasting for months or years (Manolo is a notable resident troll).

And as a result of moderating potentially defamatory comments here on Your NZ, providing a right of reply, and confronting unsubstantiated and false accusations on Twitter I have found myself on the receiving end of some particularly insidious attention from recidivist online attackers, the full extent of which I can’t yet reveal for legal reasons but will get that story out into the sunlight if and when I’m able to.

But to make at least parts of the Internet kinder places the bullies have to be confronted and exposed, or they will keep attacking and bullying.

Thanks to those of you who have helped make Your NZ a kinder place to discuss and share things. It can be done, and if it works well it will grow and spread,

A healthy democracy needs diverse opinions openly expressed and issues robustly debated. It also requires decency, respect of others, respect of the right to disagree, and recognition of the responsibilities involved with free speech.

Good things often don’t come easily but if we keep working on it we can and will contribute to making the Internet a kinder place.

It’s worth remembering (the Bible has some wise quotes):

 “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

And the similar Mosaic law:

“Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person.”

Leave a comment


  1. Brown

     /  8th November 2015

    I hate irreligious people who hold to views that mankind can be nice if it really tries hard quoting the bible in support of their view when the bible really says we are shits that need a redeemer. History shows we will do bad things if we can get away with it and social media allows us to get away with it. Its the human condition.

    • It’s not “the human condition”.

      Some humans act poorly. More humans will act more poorly unless peer pressure from more decent humans encourages a better human condition.

      • why bother

         /  8th November 2015

        Well Pete according to the bible Romans 1.28 all mankind was born with a reprobate mind
        that means an unprincipled person so in my thinking it is a human condition.
        and I agree that social media allows bad people to to say really bad things about some apparently innocent bystanders and some not so innocent.
        Social media also allows people to have unsubstantiated views and pass them on as the truth to the sheep of cyber space.

  2. Mike C

     /  8th November 2015

    I firmly believe that like-minded people are attracted to each other.

    Just look at places like the Standard and the Whale … which both attract a certain type of commenter.

    The reason why YourNZ has worked so well … is because most of the commenter’s in here have a similar mindset to George.

    In my view … the behaviour in places like Twitter and the Standard will never get cleaned up … because the reason why the people go there is to create shit and insult other people 🙂

    • tealeaves

       /  8th November 2015

      I just like the language. Some of youse have a nice turn of phrase, makes the whole exercise more enjoyable.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  8th November 2015

    Lange called the pack hunting press gallery “reef fish” and it was an apt description. The social media groupies are little different. I just find them so lacking in substance they have no recourse other than personal attacks when challenged and then can be thoroughly scorned accordingly.

    Of course when the idiots are in charge of the asylum and run the blog/group etc there is no hope as they will just ban/block your responses. Those places are best left to fester by themselves.

  4. kiwi guy

     /  8th November 2015

    I am only interested in political issues online and fly incognito so I don’t care if I get mobbed.

    Unfortunately the Progressive / Feminist / Social Justice Warrior types conflate bullying with someone disagreeing with them and gasp! ridiculing their political opinions.

    So they use real bullying like what happens to some kids online as a cover to try and censor the internet of anything they disapprove of.

  5. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  8th November 2015

    I doubt that you can make the internet a kinder place.
    Today on KB, a poster described two other commenters as “shit stains”.

    Certain types of people get a kick from bullying and indulging in pack attacks.

    It means that the only people who can comment without any degree of anonymity are those folks who have no or little reputation to lose.

    Like you, I have been defamed repeatedly on Kiwiblog by being called a liar and by having my sanity questioned. Years ago these things might have bothered me and could have harmed my job prospects. Nowadays, i couldn’t care less……but the downside surely is that no young scientist dare risk commenting on a public political blog.

    I disengage as soon as abuse or ad hominens begin.
    If a fellow blogger can’t be bothered to address the issue/topic/debate, then I can’t be bothered continuing the exchange.


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