Are trolling, bullying, and flame wars an inevitable result of online communication? Does the anonymity and invisibility of cyberspace lead to toxic speech and behavior? How can we create more toxic-free environments online?
What is it
Open up any online comments section and you’ll find them: internet trolls, from the mildly inflammatory to the viciously bullying. It seems that the ease of posting online leads many to abandon any semblance of intellectual humility. So can we have intellectual humility on an anonymous forum with little oversight and accountability? Does current online behavior portend the end of humility in the public domain? How do we encourage greater humility and less arrogance in any public discourse? The Philosophers open up the comments section for Michael Lynch from the University of Connecticut, author of The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data.
Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.
Ken and Josh kick off the show by debating the merits and disadvantages of Internet Freedom. Ken says that he loves the Internet, even if its users must tolerate trolling and flame wars to freely use it. Josh holds a contrary view that centers the Internet’s disadvantages, pointing out that the Internet has changed the face of bullying and, through trolling, degraded discourse. He suggests that the Internet is inherently anti-social.
Michael Lynch, professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, joins the show. He offers that nothing is intrinsically good or bad — that what we have to take issue with in talking about the Internet are the online platforms that it houses, not the Cloud itself. He adds that anonymity is not intrinsic to the Internet either; websites and apps experiment with and make these decisions themselves. Ken asks Michael why he thinks online bullying happens and what specific features of online platforms encourage bad behavior. Michael suggests that platforms like Facebook give its users a false sense of immediacy; people often think that they are in a real conversation when they are not.
After a few callers direct their questions to Michael, the philosophers discuss how online platforms can be improved in order to encourage users to act more responsibly on the Internet. Although Michael acknowledges that online platforms have few incentives to make their websites more ethical, Michael concludes that changing norms on online spaces is the only way to reinforce humility and good behavior among Internet frequenters. Ken connects this point to Jurgen Habermas’s views around communicative rationality and the mutually constraining search for truth.
Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:43) → Holly McDede explores conspiracy theories on the Internet, including theories that grew out of the Parkland, Florida High School shooting and trolling as an online phenomenon.
Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 46:38) → Ian Shoales acknowledges that while human rudeness is not a new thing, even inane debates nowadays can trigger huge flame wars.