Internet Politeness Norms & Alternate…Everything

Politeness norms on the internet.  Sheesh.

I recall that in graduate school, one thing I wanted to do research on was the politeness norms in chat (it had just become an interesting topic in discourse psychology in the late 90s).  Unlike face-to-face conversations, chat norms are full of abbreviations and other textual cues, and have their own turn-taking rules.  “Rudeness” was just beginning to be looked at.

There is certainly not a dearth of material to work with today, what with blogs and Twitter and Facebook etc.  Lots and lots of public material to do a meta-analysis on, if someone wanted to.  I haven’t looked up the state of the research, so I don’t know if anyone is doing this or not.  I suspect somewhere, someone is.

But my observations are more run-of-the-mill.  And I am really weirded out and disgusted by what I see.  Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what to make of it.

The most innocuous of questions/statements made online can be met with a vitriol that is beyond my understanding.  Case in point: I once asked a forum why my phone provider had changing dates for monthly phone payments (always 30 days, not the monthly thing that most normal billing cycles are).  I got a few “I don’t know” answers but then, some person started out by saying this:  “Are you stupid?  What don’t you get about ’30 days’?  Can’t you see that you would be STEALING from the phone company if you just paid monthly at the same time?  What is wrong with you?  What kind of idiot are you??”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or just sit there with my mouth open.  I wasn’t offended or hurt – please, that’s insane – but I was surprised and wondered why this person was so angry.  I didn’t engage.  I never engage with people like that, because I don’t know them and they are not important to me.

Another example is a Facebook page that’s for fans of a particular tv show I watch.  People are discussing plots etc and all of a sudden, someone will post: “OMG did you see that actress?  What did she do to her hair/clothes/face??  She LOOKS DISGUSTING and should just quit the show!  She’s NASTY and GROSS!”

I am looking at the poster’s profile, and no she doesn’t seem 12.  Even if she was, didn’t her parents teach her manners??  The actress in question, by the way, is an early 30s-something who used to be a Playboy model.  Really pretty, and talented too.

Yeah so the poster was jealous, clearly.  But why post such stupid ugliness for all to see?  Attention?  She got only one response: “You’re jealous and mean.”  Then no one else replied.

I see this thing all over the internet.  Yes, there is the whole anonymous thing.  But there’s also the “why do you think anyone cares what you think?” thing too.  I know, possibly hypocritical on my part, but at least I have a realistic expectation that most people will not read this blog.  And I don’t write it for that reason.  But anyway…

It’s like many people never self-censor anything that comes out over the internet.  And I don’t get that, because it’s so easy to edit before you send it off for good.  Why look like an idiot?

Then there’s the random capitalization thing.  I do not understand this and I find it incredibly annoying.  So much so, that i mentioned it to someone who was ranting on the Hulu comments that there was too much “American bashing” there.  The context was a BBC detective series, which somehow prompted this person to remark that ‘foreigners’ were being greedy by taking American tourism money because they (the ‘foreigners’) insisted that Americans conform to the cultural (politeness) norms of the host country while on vacation there.

Except she wrote it like this: “Its just that we have Self Confidence and don’t Care what anyone else thinks!  If they want Our money then they should Stop telling us How to act.”

What??  I made some remarks about jingoism and so on, then asked how did she think she was making the American educational system look, by capitalizing random words, not using “it’s”, and not knowing that “self-confidence” was hyphenated?  I don’t care if it was snarky – if you are going to write stupid things, at least use proper spelling and punctuation.  Hey at least I didn’t call her names or anything – I was as polite as an English teacher, sort of.

She never replied, but someone else did, telling me that it was “an internet trend” (the capitalization, especially) and that I was obviously old and out of touch.

Now this, I did laugh at.  And again, did not engage.  Because no way was I ever going to get a rational point across to that person.  What they said was so entrenched in “InternetLand” that I wouldn’t even know where to begin to address it.

I have seen people engage in this type of dialogue with others, unfortunately, and it’s jarring.  Insults fly, no one makes valid points, and everyone is clearly very upset.


Why bother interacting with someone who can do nothing but call names, swear, and otherwise engage in ignorant behavior?  Why does it upset someone, when they’ve not even met this other person?  Who cares what some person on the internet thinks of you?

This got really heated back in the chatroom days, when people were interacting on a consistent, daily basis.  It’s easy to get caught up in it.  I ran a chatroom once that I was all the time throwing people out of because they couldn’t behave in a normal, adult, polite manner.  You know, coming in and setting up a webcam so they can masturbate in my chat space – no.  How rude and immature!  And I got bashed so many times for tossing people out that I eventually gave up and closed the room.  Very weird experience.

It’s as if being rude and angry is more acceptable than being, well, normal.  Um, no, it’s not “as if”, it really is true.  Rude=good.  Ignorant=clever.  Bad spelling/grammar etc=trendy.

And don’t get me started on why it’s acceptable to show every part of your anatomy on Twitter, especially if you’re a bored rich person whose only point in life is to…show every part of his/her anatomy on Twitter.  Why would anyone find this behavior interesting?

And then why would they copy it?  I don’t want to see selfies of your butt or whatever.  It’s not cute, it’s crude and crass.  Almost as bad are the folks on the internet whose FB pages are entirely full of pictures of themselves.  I don’t mean pics of you and Aunt Ruth or whomever – I mean pics of you, and only you, smiling and mugging and in various poses/environments/states of undress.

So then they have ‘fans’.  What?  Fans of..what, exactly?  I can understand if they’re writers/musicians/people who actually do something…but fans of people whose only claim to internet fame is a load of selfies??  Or, even weirder (to me), people who are ‘famous’ for doing things like ‘performance art’ – which nowadays usually means they do things like crinkle wrapping paper (yes, really), or do other mundane things in order to trigger ‘frisson’.

You know the tingling feeling you might get when listening to some really excellent music or while looking at art or even when engaged in meditation/prayer/communion?  That’s frisson.  It’s a normal physiological response that is, say, no more significant than stomach rumbling.

People are famous for this, charge for this, and make up all kinds of weird claims about it.  Odd – um not really – that nearly every single “star” who does this is a pretty young female, and the comments written nearly all concern “brain orgasms” and such.

(If by chance Kev is reading this, sorry, sort of.  I think our friendship of 15 years can take a difference of opinion on your choice of mates, as it has mine all these years)

Wow, really? Go smoke a joint, will you?  You’re ridiculous.  “Woo”, indeed.

Then you get the websites that are supposed to give out information that’s rational and scientific but that get hijacked by “cyberchondriacs” (see an older post) who whine constantly about everything.  Or you get arguments about things that cure cancer (that don’t, of course), smug diatribes about how all traditional medicine is trying to kill people when all anyone really needs is to adjust their ‘chi’ (that mythical thing that doesn’t have any scientific support at all for existing), and egomaniacs who will cure you – for a fee, of course.

“Snake Oil on the Internet” – that will be another post at some point.

And all through it I wonder, “Why do you think anyone gives a crap what you think, especially when you can’t even rationally explain or defend it?”

It is my nature to wonder why about, well, human nature.  I spent most of my academic time involved in experiments regarding human behavior, albeit mostly in the context of text and discourse.  But I am stumped.

Is it that the world has settled into mature and immature, self-absorbed and altruistic, rude and polite, shallow and deep, and so on?  It’s not just the US, I see this in other countries too.

In fact, in the early millenial in Ireland and the UK (when I lived there), people not only screamed at each other online, they launched dns attacks with impunity.  Regular folks attacking other regular folks and destroying their computers.  Stuff that would get you arrested here, and probably now it would get you arrested there, too.

And aside from the Grumpy Cat owner (for whom I have a soft spot), what kind of person videos their pets in the hopes of becoming famous and making a profit?  Or their kids? That kind of thing would never in a million years occur to me to do.

What kind of mind thinks up, “Oh let’s see now, I do this strange thing…hey maybe I can do it on YouTube and charge money for it?”  And what kind of person with more income than sense would actually pay to watch it?

I don’t get it.  What kind of fragile, shallow ego would someone have to have to do such ridiculous, rude, and stupid things in public, just for attention/money?

What kind of person am I that I cannot understand this behavior?  My price is way too high to ever do anything like that, for any reason.  Or ask for money on GoFundMe because I want to get my hair done (yes, I really saw this and, yes, the person got a lot of donations)?

Everything and everyone is for sale on the internet, and I am agog just thinking about it.  And it’s scary when you think about how many people are shallow, vacuous, angry, and self-absorbed, while the world needs so much fixing that I can’t sleep at night just trying to work out which problem I can help solve.

Is there anyone reading this who could possibly explain this to me?  I know I just added 2 new readers this past week, both younger than I am.  Maybe they can shed some light on this.  Yeah, it’s a bummer to have to explain your generation’s stupidity to elders.  I get that.  We hippies/feminists/leftists had to do it all the time, in our heyday.

Now most of us are just struggling to understand popular culture. As if understanding the technology isn’t hard enough!

Weirdness of the week….from Snopes,  of course:

“Unidentified Submerged Object”…or is it?  You decide.

Recommendation for this week is a website called “Gizmag”.  It’s a site that features all the new cool stuff people invent – and it’s not restricted to electronics.

There are articles on mini portable houses and things like new types of bicycles (I am tempted, as many seem fall-proof, but they are all just out of reach at $1000-$2000 or so).  Wow maybe I should make a GoFundMe account and try to raise money to buy one!  Pfft.  As if my pride would allow.

Anyway, go check it out.  It’s a very cool, readable site.

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t engage in internet wars.


4 thoughts on “Internet Politeness Norms & Alternate…Everything

  1. charlies5169

    Excellent! Great minds think alike, don’t we?

    This is precisely why, other than an occasional comment on friends’ posts, I no longer post anything to Facebook, and just use it for newsfeed. At least with Google+, I have a lot more control over who sees what I post, and I am assured that it’s being read by real friends, not some random bozo who is a friend of a friend of a…

    Like you, I don’t understand why people feel this compulsion to trash anything and everything that someone says regardless of how innocuous. To paraphrase my old drill sergeant, maybe their mommas didn’t give them enough tit when they were younger.

    I will admit to being rude myself (yes, I know, hard to believe) on a few occasions but only after being attacked. Example: A friend of mine from SC was posting something about the corrupt politicians in his home state. I made a comment, basically agreeing. Within minutes, one of his “friends” starts a scathing attack for my opinion about those same politicians, foaming at the mouth over the national debt. From the best I could determine, his point was that if you were against any members of that party, you were not a real ‘Merkan because the other party was responsible for the runaway debt and because you said nice things about the other party, you were just as responsible. Or something. I dunno…

    My response was something to the effect, “I reread my post a couple of times and saw no mention or reference to the national debt. Which leads me to believe that either you do not read English very well or you are just fucking stupid. Which is it?”

    Unfortunately, or probably fortunately, my friend removed the response before it hit the target. If I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have put Tim in that awkward position. But then again, you know how much I have always enjoyed being attacked, right?

    But a great post nonetheless, and I’m glad there are other people like yourself, who feel the same.


  2. Victoria Post author

    Lol, great response to someone who was, yes, just clearly stupid. As for people not reading, this has been something that has puzzled me since grad school…It was important for people to read the instructions for a particular experiment, so they wouldn’t botch it. I tried making the instructions as short as possible, having them all read aloud with me, and so on, and STILL it was like none of them could read (I knew they could, as the U of Memphis does still require that one have the ability to read – unless you’re on the football or basketball teams). Is it a comprehension problem? A working memory problem? I will never understand this.


  3. charlies5169

    One of the reasons that I longer work in my field (Intructional Design/Technical Writing is exactly for that reason. People do not read, and many of those who do, are unable to comprehend what they have read.

    When I started in the field, the one, absolutely most essential requirement that you needed was the ability to communicate via the written word. You had to be concise and direct and clear. I spent many years doing that and I took a lot of pride in producing quality work. Rarely did I have anything returned for anything other than maybe some technical claifications.

    In the years since, this ability has taken a back seat to graphics, simulations, video editing, and recentky gaming experience (wtf?!?).

    Not to say that these are not vauable, they are, but as a supplement or support of the written word. You have to understand a context before you start pushing buttons, or whatever. Otherwise, you’re basically a mindless drone.

    Then, again, maybe that’s what is called for these days.



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