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.”