Rise of the Takedown

Heckling is not a new sport, but it seems to have taken on a new edge and greater tenacity with the development of online commentary in blogs and elsewhere. I’ve been interested in this phenomenon for some time; if you are, here is an article I ran across today from the New York Times that doesn’t confine its observations to online environments. Good thing–it’s a broader issue than that.


And here’s an extraction from the piece:

And it’s not just people in the public eye who are targets of Internet rage. In an extreme example of online heckling, anonymous comments directed at Kathy Sierra, a software expert behind the blog Creating Passionate Users, devolved from criticisms of her musings on technology to threats of suffocation, rape and hanging.

But what is driving all this vitriol? One factor, at least where the Internet is concerned, said Mr. Addis, is that “sex sells, but hate really sells,” and helps bloggers draw traffic. Mr. Kennedy believes that Internet meanness, which flourishes on media gadfly blogs and pop culture Web sites like
televisionwithoutpity.com and PerezHilton.com, and independent movie review sites like mrcranky.com and rottentomatoes.com, has bled over into public discourse, a point echoed by P. M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who founded the school’s long-running Civility Initiative.

The psychological term, Dr. Forni said, is the “disinhibition effect,” where people express themselves more openly or bluntly online than they would in person. The old filters — namely, good manners — atrophy offline, and the result is a cultural narcissism: people think that only their feelings and opinions matter


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