Mind your manners

An entertaining debate about bad language and other social skills has broken out at Comment is Free. In the same post I linked below, editor Georgina Henry wonders why some people feel compelled to use the convenient cloak of anonymity to sputter and spew.

Everyone I know who enters this new world from the old shudders similarly. They have reason to shudder; some people certainly can be assholes and it’s unnerving to find them suddenly hanging out around your kitchen table. But I also usually advise that the rest of the people in the room don’t need editors to tell us who the asses are; we know that. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kill comments that are badly abusive and personal or off-topic or spam; it’s your kitchen. But I also say that some of these people have spent so long shouting up at a wall and not being heard, they just can resist bringing out the spray-paint cans. Then again, there are always a few who simply need their meds. And sometimes, two such people find each other and so take over a thread no one else could possibly want to enter in. Except for those demented souls, usually the best answer is to face people directly; bullies back off under the glare of eye contact or to put it more positively, anyone appreciates the respect of conversation. Doesn’t mean you won’t piss off people — often just because you don’t have the time to converse with everyone at the level they all expect. But conversation is generally rewarding; comment is good. (Full disclosure: Georgina and I talked about just this over coffee when I was at The Guardian a week ago.) At CiF, Georgina writes:

Why is it necessary for small number commenters to personally abuse those with whom they disagree, sometimes in the most unpleasant way? …

Also a problem is the number of commenters who are unable to argue their point without resorting to bad language. I’ve lost count of the number of fucks, fuckings, fuckwits, fucking twats, shitbags and cunts we’ve taken down in recent weeks. What’s that about? Is it the anonymity of the email ID that emboldens some commenters who might not behave like that if we all knew who you really were (and knew your email address)? It discourages people from getting involved in debates and is a pain to endlessly police.

One of the objects of some of the nastyisms at CiF, Jackie Ashley, wrote a defense of columnists:

When it comes to blurring the lines between amateurs and professionals, I’m beginning to feel like one of a dying generation. When I grew up, eminent columnists like Bernard Levin or T.E. Utley would hand down their views on tablets of stone before heading off to their club for lunch. They rarely, I imagine, had to defend those views to scores or even hundreds of correspondents. Inevitably, that journalistic elite, like other elites, has crumbled, and a good thing too. It’s a huge advance that, thanks to the internet, columnists can now engaged immediately with a large community of correspondents.

What I will say in defence of professional columnists is that most of us have years of experience covering say politics, social policy or international affairs. We listen to the speeches, we attend the seminars, we read the paperwork and we talk the experts…at length. There will always be those who know much more about a subject than a columnist. And equally there will always be those who think they know much more. I’m delighted to hear from both: just so long as you make proper arguments and don’t call me a fucking stupid cow.

And, of course, the commenters have comments. Among them (from various posters):

* Is the bad language really so err, bad? Yes, there’s been some nasty commenting and fights between two posters, but that’s par for the course for blogs. The odd fucking often just shows how passionate some believe in their point of view. Is that such a bad thing? …

* It’s not that bad. Why delete all swearwords when half the columnists use them anyway? How silly. The Guardian allows comment but then gets upset that rude words are used. If anything people are far more eloquent when they’re typing on the net than they would be in real life.

There aren’t enough interested columnists in this blog. Dave Hill’s great – he writes good articles and then he actually turns up to join the debate in the comments. But some of the others just post their rubbish and meander off to cash their paycheck….

* This is the internet and you’re upset about a few naughty words? Utterly fupping pathetic….

* Marx has famously said that ignorance doesn’t prosper and this goes for the multifarious comments that abound on cyberspace discourse. The use of wretched language and assumption of condescending attitude in the text only undermines the commentator’s credibility, whether in virtuality or in flesh and blood. I trust that the readers, with sufficiently critical acumen, will be able to decipher through the muck and mire of such comments….

* Swearing is indicative of enfeebled intellect….

* “Swearing is indicative of enfeebled intellect.” Or the right word deployed at exactly the right moment, in the right context. Don’t confuse vulgarity with a lack of vocabulary….

* “Swearing is indicative of enfeebled intellect.” so is prissiness…

* The use of swearing certainly indicates an ignorance of or an incapacity to choose an appropriate register for public discourse. When swear words no longer have the power to shock and their use has become commonplace their semantic content is spent, consequently they have no value in communicating meaning….

* Dylanwolf, can you see no difference between me telling you to depart forthwith since I am markedly discomfited by your errant nonsense, and me telling you to fuck off?…

* carlweathers said ‘Dylanwolf, can you see no difference between me telling you to depart forthwith since I am markedly discomfited by your errant nonsense, and me telling you to fuck off?’

Of course there are differences. With the latter, you save about 50 keystrokes but sound angry and upset. With the former, you’d sound like a prat….

* “his use of the Anglo-Saxon…” If I may digress for a moment. There is considerable uncertainty as to the etymology of the word “fuck”, but Anglo-Saxon it most definitely isn’t. Most linguistic authorities these days suggest it comes from Dutch….

* I think CiF is truely thought producing. I never exchange barbs with people, I was called a posturing ignoramus by one chap but we ended up joking about things in the end. I like the exchange of opinion. There are contributors with detailed knowledge of history, politics, international relations etc…and I actually learn quite alot from their threads, which is the aim of the game I think. Then there are the bullies who use this as a soapbox. They don’t come here to learn from others. They assert their views and insult others….

You see, the people get it.

(And, yes, I’m afraid that this post will get me blocked by nannyware.)

: And then there was this amusing moment. What’s any discussion without its anti-American, paranoid conspiracy moment?

It must be difficult for the Guardian because allowing free comment (which is an excellent idea) also gives lots of people an excuse to swear and be abusive. It may be that enemies of the Guardian (from the USA?) are coming on the site purposely to swear etc. with the intention of causing trouble? I suppose one of the challenges of the internet is that it’s not possible to avoid that sort of deliberate sabotage.