344/366 – The Standards Bar Of Communications Online

I like the relative freedom that the internet gives to people who participate in it regularly, and it’s probably that level of expression that has allowed things online to flourish, whether they were community sites or media channels, or other such places. People have found a fresh, new media in order to present their opinions and values, and for the most part, the internet has been fairly laissez-faire about the whole thing.

But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be standards. By that I mean that some of the things that apply to communicating offline should be applicable online. Don’t be a dick, as Wil Wheaton succinctly put in a few years back, is the most obvious example, but it might be that the things that would get you kicked out of a bar or a theater in real life would and should probably get you punished online, too. Yes, that is something that cuts a little bit into the freedom of expression that people have enjoyed mostly online, but I feel like if this was going to be a real issue, that we wouldn’t see many places that are privately run and moderated have many rules at all.

Twitter, Reddit, and other places that have long since been a bastion of laissez-faire expression have struggled a bit with adopting these standards. On the one hand, they’ve had to try to make sure that the auspices of free expression that they first began under are still somewhat maintained even as their communities and users grow by leaps and bounds. But on the other, certain steps have and still need to be taken to ensure that the standard of communication is raised, and not lowered, by having these kinds of allowances in place. A grey area has sometimes emerged in the policy enforcement of both sites, wherein someone or a group of someones who would normally be removed from the community for violating certain standards may instead be allowed to continue, because of the murky interpretation of rules policies which might very well be outdated for the sizing of the community that they are tasked with enforcing. But I also feel as if some of that may be because of the potential blowback perceived by the decrease in the freedom of expression, as if it would be seen as a betrayal to humble roots and mission values surrounding the preservation of internet opinion from regulation.

I get that argument, but I also get that we shouldn’t allow standards to be lowered by a creeping need to preserve what is becoming an increasingly unrealistic value of completely free expression online. As the online world and the real world become more blurred together and as more and more people come to depend on the internet as a means for getting through daily lives and accomplishing tasks, so too do the standards of communication we’ve established for each other as people need to migrate as well. I don’t think that total regulation and complete policy control is a good thing either, and it’s important to note that that is not what I am advocating for, but I do think that there should be at least some policy that is consistently enforced that says that there are limits to the justification of expression that the internet provides. We should be looking to raise the bar, not lower it, and to be able to say that free expression should not shield the things we see online sometimes such as harassment, racism, and all the other things that would not get a societal free pass offline. It’s admittedly a sticky issue, and one I think we should be careful to address, but it is something that I think social media can simply not afford to ignore when it comes to preserving good and productive communication on the internet.

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