Picture the Jerry Springer show with it’s live audience, jeering and booing at guests. It’s the modern-day lion pit. Of course, anyone who is stupid enough to go onto Springer, knows what to expect, but they do it anyway. Is the attention really worth it?
The sport of online sniping seems to be the high-tech version of the Springer audience. This antagonistic mentality has become a common form of aggression currently trashing up online media. Honestly, it's a form of bullying.
Just to be clear, sniper is my own term. To me, it describes people hiding behind the safety of their computer, picking people off one-by-one with the sole intention of humiliating, offending or belittling them. What was meant to be an open forum, has become a platform for snipers.
The technical terms flaming and bashing are described as “hostile and insulting interaction between internet users”. In fact, a flaming culture has developed with distinct characters. The flamers incite flaming by focusing on precise points. Their counterparts are known as trolls who use blunt and obvious comments to fuel flame wars.
Back in the day of newspapers, one could write a letter to the editor about a particular topic. Letters were usually thoughtful commentary from articulate readers, worthy of publication and approved by editors.
Thanks to today’s technology, anyone can instantly comment on any story, article or blog with the speed and accuracy of an automatic weapon. Some snipers comment on everything and anything, often with offensive, negative or irrelevant comments, even if they have no knowledge or interest in the topic.
Snipers seem to thrive on the attention and agitation they create. To me, it’s the same kind of thrill that kids get from smacking a bee hive with a stick. Is this simply a cry for attention, like toddlers who throw tantrums? As a mom I recognize this kind of shrill noise. As a human, I find it simply annoying.
As a journalist however, I am torn. I am all for free speech and I appreciate contrasting perspectives, but that’s not what we usually get from snipers. Like with junk mail and spam, we have to weed through the endless assaults, to get to constructive bits of information, both positive and negative.
One might say that career snipers simply have too much time on their hands, but I think it’s more complicated. Excess time can be used to help community, family and ourselves. I suspect it’s a need for attention, or perhaps the desire to share unhappiness with the world. Misery loves company, right?
So how do we inject integrity, respect and etiquette into the public commentary arena? Like dealing with bullies, taking the bait and responding just encourages them... so that won’t work.
Do we try to empathize or reason with snipers? Do we give them the online hugs or develop support groups for them?
In this case, is moderating and censorship wrong, or is it the solution? Should a moderator decide what comments are acceptable comment? How do you get a moderator thats totally impartial? Imagine this... a moderator flags inappropriate comments with a warning. After three strikes, the flamer is given a free membership to a Flame War website, which is basically a crying room (like you find in churches) where snipers can scream at each other.
Ooh... why not embrace it and make it a competitive cyber-blood sport with beer sponsors and bikini models? It’s just a thought. What are your thoughts? Okay snipers, flamers and trolls (and you know who you are)... go ahead and open fire.