Dodge City

Its often been said that the internet is a bit like the wild west. An exciting place to be, but full of dangerous people and in need of a lot of law and order. Having just been part of YET ANOTHER ridiculous exchange, with YET ANOTHER moron overdosing on testosterone on a photographic forum, I'm seriously considering giving them up permanently.

Forums sound like such a good idea don't they? A place to swap ideas, share experiences and get information, help and support. Unfortunately they are also a place for the crazies to run riot. The world is full of all sorts of human beings, with all sorts of personalities, and this is very much reflected in the internet. It gives us information at our fingertips, contact with people we would never otherwise meet, a place to share, admire and create. It also gives us child pornography and live executions. Sometimes I am inspired by what I find there, sometimes it makes me feel that global warming and the extinction of the human race can't come quick enough.

An over reaction? Of course, buts thats the nature of the beast. The anger and aggression that some people exhibit towards others is both surprising and shocking. Just because its written and not face to face doesn't make it any less unpleasant. We've all heard of instances of internet and mobile phone bullying, and the consequences that it can have for the recipients. Its no less evil than physical bullying in the real world.

When it happens you always hear the same old nonsense. It starts with "You need to develop a thicker skin" "You're too sensitive" "Its just a bit of fun" "You need to stand up for yourself more" Yes, most of us can cope with it, stand our corner and give as good as we get, but every now and then there's someone who can't. The bully doesn't differentiate between people who can take the bullying and those who can't, they just bully.

With most people who claim to have a "thick skin" this usually extends to their brain. If you don't have the sensitivity to realise that you are upsetting people, then you won't have the sensitivity to appreciate anything else either.

Is all this a bit over the top for rudeness on internet forums? Well maybe, but many fights start with a bit of "harmless banter" between the recipients and end up with people getting hurt.

The depressing thing about this kind of brain dead behaviour on the internet is that it can be stopped very easily. Forums have moderators who have the power to delete offensive material and remove people who post it. I moderate a group on flickr, and at the first sign of intolerant and/or aggressive personally targeted posting, I step in and stop it. If needed I will remove the material and person responsible. I have, for example, a zero tolerance towards swearing in posts, no matter how many as******s it has.

I'm no saint, and in real life my conversation can sound like an episode of Deadwood or the Soprano's but written down, and directed towards another person, the use of four letter words becomes nastier somehow. Its out of context, without the sense of the emotion that caused it to happen, and it sits there, in print for all to see.

As far as I'm concerned, insulting another person with the use of four-letter words in a forum is not to be tolerated. If it happened in a forum I moderated, I would immediately and permanently remove and ban the person who posted it.

In the incident I am referring to, this was also a completely unprovoked outburst. The person to whom it was directed had not given any cause. Indeed they had coped politely with an ever increasing level of aggression from the perpetrator. So how was it dealt with? Well very badly. The instigator of this had his posts removed, but was allowed to stay within the forum. He offered a belated and perfunctory apology but was basically unrepentant. The moderators attempted to present it as a dispute involving both parties when it clearly wasn't. All in all an unpleasant experience and one that I find dispiriting.

This DOES matter. The internet can only be policed by the people who use it. Its way too big and way too out of control for anyone else to step in. We can only have influence over the tiny corner of it that we populate and if we let the unacceptable become acceptable then we have nobody to blame but ourselves.