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Mourning for the Web I Lost

I wrote this meditation on Web 2.0 on Facebook this morning, but after posting it there, decided it deserved a broader audience. This morning there was a BBC article entitled,"Network sites 'need help buttons'." It begins,

Major social networking websites have been criticised for not introducing a help button for children to report concerns about grooming and bullying.

One of the things on my to-do list is to return a NY State Trooper's call regarding an Internet harassment complaint I filed with Essex County, NY a couple of months ago. Existing mechanisms take a long time to work. So the problem of Internet harassment has been on my mind this morning.

Here is what I wrote about the BBC article.

It's not just kids that could benefit from a "Help" button on Web 2.0 sites. Pretty much every age group can. Social network sites like, say, LiveJournal are the killer ap for a wide range of cyberbullying tactics.

Any system that allows for anonymity + closed group/mob formation should have a Help! button of the type suggested, and not one just for kids.

This is one reason I tolerate the kids being on Club Penguin: There are easy-to-use mechanisms by which the kids can put a quick stop to harassment before it becomes anything damaging.

Another Web 2.0 site that has fairly sophisticated mechanisms for such things is Wikipedia. The problem with Wikipedia's implementation is that because of its anarcho-collectivist social structure, sometimes the enforcers are the perceived aggressors. And also, it takes a while to learn the ropes, so while I know what to do about the jerk in Florida who vandalizes my Wikipedia talk page every morning, a new user wouldn't.

On balance, so far, I regard Web 2.0 as a social disaster that destroyed much of what I thought was good about the Internet because of the harassment/bullying problems. Almost by accident, I did some amazingly effective Good Works using the internet circa 2005. What I/we did then would not be possible in 2009 because Web 2.0 nastiness is too corrosive of the public trust.

I have been for a while in a state of mourning for the Web I lost. Partly, I was simply too naive to understand the risks I was taking and too pleased with myself when those risks paid off. 

But nonetheless I think the web now is a very different place, and that Web 2.0 has catalyzed the Internet's general tendency to regress adults to the emotional level of 7th graders.

If I turned the computer off and went away for a year, would things be better when I came back? No, I think not.