The Web: Civil or Not?

from the Hoya Discussing online civility and digital discourse, the creators of Wikipedia and CiviliNation emphasized the importance of a healthy online culture that will discourage harassment Monday in Copley Formal Lounge.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Andrea Weckerle, founder of CiviliNation, drew a crowd of about 200 students, faculty and others for the event, which was sponsored by the School of Continuing Studies.

Wales ─ who is also a board member of CiviliNation, a nonprofit devoted to promoting rational and civil discourse in electronic media ─ started off by laying out the perils and advantages of an age of online social interaction.

“Now that we are in the era of social computing, it is the human connections that are really important,” Wales said, championing the emotional and psychological benefits of human interactions on the Internet.

His co-presenter, Weckerle, expressed disapproval over the current state of online dialogue, referencing recent political discourse as a pertinent example.

“As a group our political leaders have been examples of how not to behave,” Weckerle said.

She quickly moved into cases that affect the typical online user. Weckerle listed intentional provocation, spreading of lies, verbal abuse, reputational attacks, release of personal information and cyberstalking as just some of the many hostile activities that pervade the Internet.

According to Weckerle, this destructive activity spans all sorts of social platforms on the web. She also referenced studies that stated hostile behavior online can be linked to emotional and psychological damage.

According to Weckerle, a lack of fully developed online social norms is the main cause of conflict.

“What if we created an environment where we have passionate debate and reasonable dissent and become guardians of reason?” Weckerle proposed.

Wales advocated using similar guideline practices as Wikipedia as a step toward more civil online interaction. Wikipedia’s rules range from requiring proper citation and neutral points of view to prohibiting personal attacks and vandalism. According to Wales, these rules help administrators maintain the quality and civility of Wikipedia.

Weckerle also promoted a new guide for interaction on the web that centered on less anonymity and more cautious, rational behavior for users when engaging in an argument.

For Weckerle though, stifling discussion is not the answer

“Freedom of expression truly is a fundamental human right,” Weckerle said.

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