Monday, 11 November 2013

On-line hostility and a sense of proportion

The Internet is a big, big place.  We humans aren't used to such big places, and as a result we can get seriously misled about what is going on.  

Suppose I go onto Twitter and say something a touch controversial.  I might get quite a few heated responses.  If I'm a journalist I might get rather excited about that.  Heated responses make a good story: I can write up about how angry people get about the subject of my tweets.  I might even feel upset about the reaction to my words, and get the impression that I'm despised.  There may even be vile threats, making me feel that the Internet is not a safe place.

All of these reactions are wrong, and all arise because of a huge mistake made about the experience of being on-line:  a total lack of a sense of proportion.  "Proportion" is the right word here.  

Suppose I get a dozen angry replies.  That number is meaningless as it stands because there is no way to tell who read my tweets and did not reply.  There is no way to know what proportion of readers were angry,  because almost all reading of tweets is entirely passive.  People who aren't angry or upset usually have little motivation to reply in any way.  So what would that angry dozen mean?  I have absolutely no idea, and neither does anyone else who uses any public space on the Internet - without any idea of the total readership of a comment there is no way to know what the significance is of hostile reaction.

So, try not to get upset if you get a negative reaction - get a sense of proportion! 

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