Living with Internet trolls: Get used to it

The Washington Post's Jim Brady speaks his mind about uncivil speech on the Internet. Kudos for having the courage of his convictions, but his policy prescription is all wrong.

Credit Jim Brady for speaking truthfully about a controversy even though he's never going to win in the court of cyber opinion.

In an interview with my colleague Greg Sandoval, Brady, who is the executive editor of the Washingtonpost.com, suggested that online anonymity can foster abusive, locker room language that violates Web site standards.

New-media art

"People say things online they would never say when disagreeing with someone at the dinner table. I think heated debate is fine, but when there are (flame wars), many people won't take part for fear they will be attacked and bashed over the head with the (Internet-equivalent) of a steel pipe."

He went on sketch a future in which people are required to identify themselves before leaving posts on Web sites. So-called "bozo filters" aren't enough for him. "I don't know whether we do it with a credit card number, a driver's license, or passport, but I think making people responsible would raise the level of discourse."

I'm sure Brady's familiar with artistic depictions of Saint Sebastian through the ages. The arrows are already flying, but Brady obviously expected to become a target. OK, he made his (very public) point, but the Miss Manners shtick is destined to fall on deaf ears.

Brady and anybody else who publishes on the Web--from big media conglomerates to the newest blogger--understands that rough elbows predominate in cyberspace. Who doesn't wish the conversation was more polite? But that's the price you pay for a no-holds-barred dialectic. The smart talk is going to drown out the bleating anyway. So let the trolls waste their time leaving F-bombs on talkback boards, if they must.

 

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