Whatever Happened to Civility on The Internet?

In response to Wil Shipley's recent post about the lack of an iPhone SDK, a reader left this comment:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/07/whatever-happened-to-civility-on-the-internet.html

Nice post, jackass. It’s definitely important to realize people won’t want to deal with you if you don’t make the effort to follow some basic rules of etiquette. However, as that a**hole, Benjamin Franz, alluded to, it might be inappropriate to ask “Whatever happened to civility on the internet?” as you’d have a hard time demonstrating there ever was any.

Of course, some places are worse than others. The comments in the two blogs I read most (this and that tweed-wearing, pony-tailed idiot, Bruce Schneier’s) seem to be mostly level-headed and actually add valuable information to the posts, while many popular forums are almost completely unreadable.

My biggest beef is people who simply can’t admit that they have made a mistake or can’t apologize. What is it with our world today when admitting that you were wrong on a COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS internet forum is so darned hard to do?

If you want to earn someone’s respect, admit your mistakes and actually apologize when you’ve been an a’hole.

If you want to win the argument AND feel vindicated, then I always feel that a bit of each side of this discussion is in order.
A civilized, rational response to show the depth of your knowledge and passion about the subject, followed by a shallow harsh dismissal of the other person tends to piss everybody off equally.

This only works if you really want to be an a’hole…

I love the coinage: nerd rage. Prettily put.

I’m reminded of something Vance Packard, the pop sociologist, discussed in ‘The Status Seekers.’ He noted that all social groups have a pecking order, in which the most powerful are given the respect they deserve and the less powerful behave commensurate with their place in the group. It might seem cruel, but it works and order is maintained. Technology tends to interfere with this hierarchy in that you can end up with a man of very small stature insulting a much larger man from inside his automobile. Once these two step out of their cars, things fall back into their natural state. The internet is much like an automobile in that it affords anonymity, which greatly reduces the risk of insulting another human being.

So the next time you feel like flaming someone, remember that you’re probably just engaging in nerd rage.

Isn’t calling someone a name just an ineligant ad hominem attack? And didn’t this blog cover ad hominem attacks in a recent post?


it might be inappropriate to ask “Whatever happened to civility on the internet?” as you’d have a hard time demonstrating there ever was any.

I think there are pockets of civility, as runbei pointed out with his running forum examples.

What happened to civility? Good question for Will. In the original post, Will called other people’s work “dogshit.” He established the tone of the discussion, and the commenter followed suit. That doesn’t make it right, but Will’s holier-than-thou reaction is laughable.

If you want to be rude, that’s your right, but don’t be surprised when others respond in-kind.

As my Gran always told me, resorting to expletives is the craft of those whose limited intelligence means they are unable to find appropriate and eloquent insults to hurl.

That said, I hate Javascript and curse a lot when I have to use it. However, swearing at an inanimate piece of code is somewhat different to insulting a person, whether that be face to face or over the internet.

I’m with you - etiquette all the way.

While I don’t like to accept it, the rules are different here. It’s just a different world to me. You’re throwing people that don’t typically have the guts to stand up for themselves in the real world, into in a place of anonymity. It’s their only outlet.

It’s a different world that I avoid at all costs. I stopped reading digg, cause I couldn’t deal with the idiotic, brainless, and hypocritical comments. I hardly participate in forums anymore for the same reason. I’ve found that people don’t typically respond to me positively in this world, for reasons I don’t understand.

I guess I’ll stay out there.

It looks like we have forgotten the root of this discussion: Apple is hiding iPhone SDK. And, if that was not rude enough, they SOLDERED the battery onto iPhone’s “motherboard” without even suggesting the wattage of the soldering iron I should use once the battery gives up its ghost. 1W? 2W? 0.5W?

Now, that’s what I call rude.

In the original post, Will called other people’s work “dogshit.” He established the tone of the discussion

That’s fair, but don’t you think it’s ultimately more effective to respond reasonably, rather than assuming the tone of the writer you are responding to?

Jeff, this is the best blog entry I have read, by anyone, ever. I have always appreciated the tone of respect you use with your readers; I appreciate it all the more now.


This is something we see everywhere on the internet.

Out of curiosity, how do you come up with the topics that you write about?

And how the heck do you remember the Penny-Arcade comic and date of the GIFT.

I am impressed, as always.

Jeff, you’re totally full of sh*t. You always come across as a little bit of an a**hole. Full of yourself, overly critical and a bit mean. Dismissing and dissing, out of pure ignorance and spite, the work of the people who write such insightful comments.

I kid. I kid.

This is spot on! I think the Terms of Service of every site should link to this post about how to be a member of a community. :wink:

The thing is, community and civility require some amount of empathy. I’ve dealt with agitated commenters before and try my best to be civil and empathetic as in this situation I wrote about: http://haacked.com/archive/2007/03/26/building-a-strong-open-source-community-requires-empathy.aspx

Only when I feel they are merely agitators or trolling, do I simply not respond anymore.

I don’t like piling on (even on a good pile), but this was a really good post. I really enjoy your blog and its one of the few that I make the time to read on a regular (daily) basis. Thanks.

Conveniently, the majority of such folks reside at Digg… hence the aptly coined moniker - DIGGTARD!

seriously, just spend 10 minutes reading comments under any thread and see if the incoherent mishmash of profanity peppered with overused LOLcat comments and utterances of “FTW” cause you to actually lose IQ.

Hi Jeff, this is a great post and something that is especially relevant in the debate about whether to allow commenting on blogs or not. However, although I see your point about constructive criticism, I agree with the other commenters who pointed out that Wil set the tone of the discussion. I don’t know who Wil is and I’ve never met him, but he does come across as a bit of an ahole in that post by calling JavaScript “dogsh*t” and using worse profanities that the commenter who called him an ahole.

I don’t think there’s any point trying to be reasonable with someone who’s being unreasonable, in the same way that I don’t think you should be unreasonable with someone who puts forward a reasonable argument. Wil started his post by making some valid points, and then half way through it he seemed to get side-tracked and went off on a bit of a tirade.

I suspect that Wil enjoys doing that as it sparks emotions in readers and prompts them to post rude comments. That seems to justify his tirade and give him more reason to be rude, as can be seen in his response to the “a**hole” commenter in which he uses more profanities.

Count how many times the word “f*ck” was said on that page and you’ll see that Wil is the one at fault here.

Where is the civility indeed! Check out this post about a troll fight that ended in arson: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/07/27/guy_who_lost_online_.html