You’re a nicer person on­line

There’s more to be­ing a vir­tu­ous cit­i­zen than tick­ing a box on­line. Maybe we could take some so­cial tips from ISIS? Okay, maybe not…

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

Truth by Dun­can Bell

Do you re­mem­ber the great Tramp Spike Mutiny of 2014? Way back in mid-June, build­ings were found to have in­stalled some pointy disks in their door­ways, pretty ob­vi­ously to pre­vent home­less peo­ple sleep­ing there.

The Twit­ter out­cry was im­me­di­ate. Af­ter all, even the most slow-wit­ted of web users can agree that treat­ing our fel­low hu­mans in the same way we treat pi­geons re­ally isn’t on. In fact, it’s one step away from putting man-traps in parks to catch jog­gers.

Soon, the call went up on­line for a live demon­stra­tion. “Let’s get plac­ards printed, go down to the of­fices of the land­lords re­spon­si­ble for this af­front to hu­man dig­nity and do a bit of shout­ing,” peo­ple cried. Text­book com­mu­nity ac­tion. The au­thor­i­ties’ elite Twit­ter-read­ing squad got wind of this and a load of ex­tra po­lice were duly laid on for the oc­ca­sion, in case the crowd cut up rough.

And so, given the tramp-spike out­rage had now caused over 130,000 peo­ple to sign an on­line pe­ti­tion and a sim­i­lar num­ber to Tweet, com­ment and oth­er­wise vir­tu­ally ag­i­tate on­line, how many do you think turned up to the demo? That’s right: seven.

It’s of­ten said that on­line in­ter­ac­tions bring out the worst in peo­ple. Em­bold­ened by anonymity, they act with ag­gres­sion, nas­ti­ness and fuck­wit­tery that, I’m pleased to say, is com­par­a­tively sel­dom seen in what we must now call “the off­line world”.

How­ever, I’ve re­alised there’s a corol­lary to this, which is that peo­ple also some­times act with ex­ag­ger­ated good­ness on­line. Pri­mar­ily, be­cause it’s nice to be vir­tu­ous, but se­condly, let’s face it, be­cause it’s easy.

Now, fair play to the spike pe­ti­tion­ers: they got their way and The Pointy Disks have been re­moved. How­ever, this is very much the ex­cep­tion, not the rule. Far big­ger mass “move­ments” on­line to se­cure the re­turn of the girls kid­napped by Boko Haram in Nige­ria, or to bring about the ar­rest of African war­lord Joseph Kony? Well, they’ve been less suc­cess­ful. The rea­son be­ing that, de­spite what many in the West have con­vinced them­selves, the web is not where most stuff hap­pens; it’s just where peo­ple talk about it.

Now, say what you like about Is­lamic mil­i­tant group ISIS – that its mem­bers have a seventh-cen­tury men­tal­ity and the so­phis­ti­cated in­tel­lect of a 13-year-old who’s been told to tidy his bed­room, for in­stance – but you have to ad­mit it al­lies its imag­i­na­tive and tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive use of so­cial me­dia with very, er, vig­or­ous ac­tion on the ground.

On­line pe­ti­tions and Twit­ter-storms are one way of fight­ing the world’s evils. But let’s not kid our­selves into think­ing they’re ef­fec­tive, other than to make us feel bet­ter about our­selves.

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