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<   No. 3357   2014-11-09   >

Comic #3357

1 {photo of a display of protest signs}
1 Caption: Protest

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Last night (as I begin writing this), I had a dream. Someone had organised a protest in a large public space. But it wasn't noisy or violent; there were no placard or banner wavers; and there were no rallying speeches.

There was a large square which filled up with people throughout the day, and a tall wall facing the square. Every so often someone new would arrive, or someone would get up from their place in the square, go up to the wall, write a message on a sheet of paper, perhaps draw a funny picture, and stick the paper to the wall. The square had a picnic atmosphere, with families sitting around, kids playing, and so on. Musicians would wander through occasionally, entertaining the people.

The messages on the wall were encouragements to be nice. To smile at people, to say a kind word, to offer assistance, to be polite, to be tolerant. By the end of the day the wall was covered in these messages, plastered layers deep. And as people happily drifted off in the evening back to their homes, the organiser cleaned up the wall so spotlessly that it was if nothing had ever happened.

It was all low key and very pleasant. But if this was a protest, what was it protesting against?

Protest march.

If you've ever read a comment thread on a website, then you have some idea. I read some sites for their interesting or newsy content. One common feature that you notice very quickly if you read any of the comment threads on website items is that (a) people have different opinions about what are ultimately trivial details, and (b) some people don't seem to able to stop themselves from calling anyone who has a different opinion to theirs stupid. Or worse.

I'm sure a lot has been written on this topic in many different places by many people more eloquent than me. Really I'm just writing this now out of my own personal frustration, and the feeling that we can do better. The reason so many people behave so badly to one another online is, I am pretty sure, that online interaction is so depersonalised. Letting fly with a string of text invective is easier than insulting someone verbally to their face. It's easier if you can't see the reaction on their face, or have to worry about the potential to be punched in your own face.

If someone walked down the street and started calling everyone that walked past whose clothes they didn't like "idiots" or yelling abuse at random strangers, they'd very quickly start collecting disapproving glares at the least, and perhaps more. Anyone watching would be left in no uncertain terms that this behaviour was socially unacceptable. So why then do people seem to accept it on the Internet? Sure, not everyone does, but there's no significant groundswell to curb this sort of behaviour as there is on a physical street. People just seem to put up with it.

I don't think we should put up with it. But I don't know what to do about it, other than try to set a good example.

Be nice to people. Nobody likes being abused. So don't abuse them.

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My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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Last Modified: Sunday, 9 November 2014; 02:11:02 PST.
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