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Internet and social media behavior 101

We can stop our rude, crude, online ways through a new era of Internet etiquette and by using tools that give us time to cool off.

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We’re rude and crass and unthinking on the Internet for the same reason it’s easier to blow up people when you’re piloting a drone from 6,000 miles away.

Psychologists call it “moral disengagement.” The further removed we are from the consequences of our actions, the easier it is to emotionally separate ourselves from our own behavior. Distance makes the heart grow colder.

That’s one reason the Internet is filled with so much bad behavior. We see it on blogs, where vicious comments are posted by cowards who hide behind the cloak of anonymity. We see it, particularly among young people, in social media like Facebook and MySpace, where cyberbullying has had tragic consequences. And we see it in casual e-mails

There are other reasons for bad behavior online. It’s a convenient outlet. We get frustrated easily these days, and if an e-mail with the slightest provocation shows up at the wrong time, we unleash that frustration.

Is there a big social problem with the way we’re interacting with one another online? Is there a need for a new era of Internet etiquette – or “netiquette,”as it is sometimes called? Yes, and yes.

The current level of anger and hostility online is another rip, and a big one, in our social fabric. Of course, it also mirrors much of what goes on inthe world at large, particularly in politics and media. The name-calling, the histrionics, the insults that are part of our cable-TV culture find their daily analogues in the way we communicate online.

Can this change? While there doesn’t seem a lot of reason for optimism, there is no doubt that broad behavioral and social change is possible. It has happened before.

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