Friday, March 6, 2009

Clive Hamilton, a new prattling Polonius, Flamers, Trolls, Cyber Rage and Cyber Thuggery

Just who appointed Clive Hamilton moral guardian of the universe, which just so happens to include the intertubes? Sure we know he's a professor of public ethics Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University. Sounds impressive.

But does that give him the right to ponce on about the dangers of the internet like a barn door banging in the wind? He's at it again in Crikey, under the header Hamilton: The Internet's belligerent Brutopia (no link because of Crikey's Chinese fire wall pay for the pleasure policy. Pay for Clive Hamilton to maintain access to his dulcet tones?)

... if free speech means encouraging a free-flowing dialogue that draws the public into an exploration of alternative ideas and enriches civic culture, then the Internet is its enemy.

What a pompus git (and I say that of course as someone prone to ratbag loonery in the absence of restrictions in this kind of forum on saying anything I want, however I want, as some kind of promised boon to free speech).

I dare say there are some of us who would like to sit around over a cup of Lady Gray tea, and a nice cheese and cucumber sandwich (only a dash of French mustard thanks), but there are some of us who don't mind a free flowing exchange of ideas, pleasantries and abuse (and if you don't like it you can always set up your own blog, or engage in active moderation or outright banning. Even pirate sites have strict rules about flaming).

Poor Clive finds it all just so ungenteel, so unruly, so thuggish.

Many have entered into a public debate on a website only to find themselves the target of a torrent of abuse from the regular army of anonymous users who have no respect for any higher principle of free speech. Their attitude is: "If you don't like the heat then get out of the kitchen."

The truth is that large numbers of people who would like to participate in internet forums are driven out because they find the experience unpleasant and upsetting.

The poor, deprived possums. Somebody waft some smelling salts under their noses, they seem to have fainted under the fierce assault of all those weasels, stouts and ferrets out there.

But you know Clive is right. When I went to Stormfront - the white nationalist community board, you must know it well - to post some comments in favor of greenies, lefties, feminists and blacks, I was roundly abused, banned and threatened with the hanging tree. But who was the dumb one? All the true believers or me for deliberately stirring up a hornet's nest?

Given its chaotic birth and strangely haphazard upbringing, and its current unknowability, the intertubes are suprisingly well ordered and in most places I visit remarkably civilised. Sure I don't visit Tim Blair's comments much, and I never go near Andrew Bolt for fear of attracting the attention of the anti-Christ, but then there are rules of engagement and you play by the rules. If you don't like it, you leave. There are a hundred and thirty million blogs out there, find someone's opinions, ideas or thoughts you like and join in.

What's torturing Clive of course is the anonymity:

The brutality of public debate on the Internet is due to one fact above all - the option of anonymity. The belligerence would not be tolerated if the perpetrators' identities were known because they would be rebuffed and criticised by those who know them. Free speech without accountability breeds dogmatism and confrontation.

Which is like to say Andrew Bolt must be a pseudonym, as must Tim Blair, because surely these personas must be anonymous right? How else to explain their taste for dogmatism and confrontation and brutal public debate? There's no way their belligerence would not be tolerated if we knew their identities right? People wouldn't flock to their sites for a free for all of cathartic abuse would they? 

Oh right, got it, it's not Bolt and Blair that are the problems. It's the fan-oids down in the comments section. If we knew who they were, and could rebuff and criticise them, that kind of accountability would abort dogmatism and confrontation.

When you return from Planet Idealism (somewhere north of Mars) Clive, maybe we can have a sensible chat about all this stuff. But let's carry on:

Moderate opinion tends to be based on a more nuanced and thoughtful view of the world and is more inclined to consider alternative views. Yet these are precisely the contributions excluded from discussions by the bullying culture of online forums. There is little scope for the back-and -forward debate when the normal social rules of respect and reciprocity do not apply.

"Mummie, mummie Clive Hamilton called me a belligerent Brutopian. What does that mean?"
"Well dear that's a portmanteau word invented by the wondrous Carl Barks joining together brute and utopia to describe a nasty, hostile country full of people who hate Scrooge McDuck and want to get hold of his money. Like filthy communists."
"But mummie, mummie, that's horrid and and vile and nasty, I love Scrooge McDuck and Carl Barks. What does it mean when he says I don't show any normal social rules of respect and reciprocity? And what does he mean when he says I'm an opinionated cyber thug, roaming the net, a bullying part of an ugly culture of dogmatic and belligerent interventions, blighting the internet with a kind of cyber-rage and table-thumping assertion that owes more to fucking Gordon Ramsay than Socrates?"
"Oh that's just Clive dear, you know how he likes to get angry and grumpy and table thumpy and throw around abusive words like confetti in a wind storm. Leave him alone, you know how he gets when he's in a rage. Leave him alone for a little while, and let him sulk."

To be sure, there are corners of the World Wide Web where communities with common interests engage in civilised discussion, where opinions are formed and changed. Yet there is always a danger that these polite exchanges will be gate-crashed by an opinionated cyber thug roaming the net.

Oh no, not my favourite stamp collecting site. Don't tell me a cyber thug is just waiting to destroy it. Wait, I've checked, it's still there Clive, do you want a link?

Meantime, who let you into Crikey Clive? I've rarely come across such a vitriolic piece of cyber-thuggery outside my favorite set of columnists loons, who are of course paid to rant and rail and rage about the world by their Murdoch and Fairfax masters. What flicks your switch so hard? Someone call you a loon for your loonish, Conroyish plans to plunge the internet into censorship hell to save the children (except you won't)?

Note to Clive. Stormfront don't want to share a cucumber sandwich with you, and it's quite likely you don't want to chow down with them either. Especially someone like you showing such rage about the internet. Don't even try. But don't start acting like a troll and a flamer in Crikey. Lord knows we don't expect that kind of behaviour from a public ethicist.

I know the next solution you'll care to offer. Ban all the trolls and the flamers and the anonymisers from the internet. Ban pornography. Ban things polite genteel people don't like to see, like pro-life ratbags. Ban, ban, ban. Ban grumpy people, ban acerbic people, ban people using pen names (yes that includes you George Eliot you phony feminist), ban all the loons.

Here's an alternative. Cut back on the rage pills, avoid steroids, take a few deep breaths, then step out into the light, away from the musty halls celebrated by Malcolm Bradbury in Eating People is Wrong (yes folks, it's a little known fact that academics actually eat students).

Get some balls man. Go out and tackle the world. If you don't like the tone of someone, flag the comment and let a moderator sort it out. If you discover someone's flaming you, take steps. If a troll lands, know how to deal with them (sensible procedures have now been in place in most 'civilised' sites for what's relatively a long time considering the short time the internet's been around). 

Chances are if people don't want you in their community, you probably won't want to be there either. That's how communities work. Sure it means you get closed minded bigoted sites like Andrew Bolt's blog. But that's life, no one's forcing you to go there, and no one expects you to deliver well honed insights into the meaning of life there. It's entertainment.

And yes in the end, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen and off the internet, and leave this wondrous new invention unharmed and uncensored to those who appreciate its profound benefits along with its limitations.

My own thought? If the world wants to retreat into the drawing room of academia, and do a little macrame when things get a bit agitated, then we will have a rich, profoundly dull, profoundly torpid civic culture, Clive Hamilton approved, full of alternative ideas that have the tepid excitement of a warm soggy tea bag. (The one benefit being that Clive will be banned because of his trolling).

And then truly we can say move over Gerard Henderson, we have found an even bigger prattling Polonius, and sadly the internet is our enemy because he has been delivered to us at blinding light courtesy of a mouse click. Oh internet, you gave me a Clive Hamilton raging rant, and I thought you were my friend ...


Anonymous said...

Clive's just sore that despite being the pompous professor of whatever-he-is, he's not immune to public scrutiny, and that it's not just him who gets to publish his own self-righteous brand of morality.

How dare the citizens think they can speak up and point out his lies and falsehoods when he embarks on another of his long-winded diatribes? Sire, the peasants are revolting!

Unsurprisingly, it seems that Clive would prefer that public debate was censored for the greater good...won't someone think of the children? Better run home, Clive - Mummy's calling!

Ilago said...

The article isn't behind the Crikey paywall. It's listed as free content so you can post the link.

I'm not about to tell Michael Duffy how to suck eggs, but why is Clive Hamilton, wearing his cloak of academia, not being subjected to any serious scrutiny here by other public intellectuals and commentators? Nationwide censorship is a very serious issue and certainly one that should be subjected to a modicum of academic research of some kind. He's been publishing papers on internet "immorality" since at least 2003 and I have yet to see any academic seriously challenge Clive on the opinions he is espousing as fact. Does he, or does he not have relevant academic research to support this opinion?

dorothy parker said...

Thanks Ilago, I suppose I could link to Clive being a loon. But on second thoughts, why give the rascal any oxygen. Attention seeking shouldn't be rewarded - unless it's a good spanking and off to the bedroom like my mother did way back when Brutopianism was a way of life, and thoughts of Clive merely a futuristic nightmare.

As for academic research when insults, abuse and personal prejudice will do? And Clive has the cheek to talk about the noble art of trolling ...