Charlotte Dawson

Charlotte Dawson

The Sunday Start-Times had a half page opinion article by Simon Cunliffe who says, “I am a Twitter-virgin. I do not subscribe, have not used, and do not intend to become a Twitter devotee.” Having stated that he has no experience of Twitter, he then goes on to assert, “Twitter encourages directness, blunting the social niceties and conventions of more considered interactions… Tweets have little room for subtlety and even less for nuance.”

I use Twitter pretty much daily and have over 74,000 followers. Contrary to Twitter-virgin Simon Cunliffe, my experience on Twitter has been generally positive. The part of the Twitterverse I inhabit is generally concerned with people improving their own lives, helping others with their own goals, and having a bit of fun along the way. I have had a few souring experiences. Yes, they are upsetting. Rule 1: don’t feed the trolls (note to self). Unfollow means they cannot Direct Message, and all they write is public. Block means you do not read their upsetting tweet. Block and report is a top-level response to nastiness.

New Zealand-born Australian television personality, Charlotte Dawson, has been in the news (and is the background to Simon Cunliffe’s article) for hospitalisation for suicidal tendencies encouraged by some tweets. Nothing, I believe, justifies tweets like that.

The law varies from country to country in relation to social media. Generally it is struggling to keep pace with social media developments. It is difficult, for example, to be clear who owns online messages – and, hence, who has legal responsibility for them. There is a strong school of thought, for example, that if Jimmy makes a comment on a business’ Facebook Page that the business holds responsibility for Jimmy’s comment and should be monitoring the Page and removing unacceptable comments. Others would argue Jimmy retains ownership and responsibility for the comment. Facebook, in many contexts, might argue that it owns the comment and information provided.

I am clear that this post is my intellectual property, and I am responsible for its content. When it comes to the comments you place here, I regard myself as having some moral responsibility, and it is possible I have some legal responsibility for them.

I also hold that you, posting comments, have a moral responsibility as you post. And possibly a legal responsibility.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)

In several discussions here I have always held that cyberspace is not “unreal”. I am affected by what I read, just as I am affected by what I hear. I am affected, positively and negatively, by what you write to me online. I am affected, positively and negatively, by people I have never met. The ethics of online conversations, then, IMO are not significantly different to the ethics of non-virtual conversations.

  • On this site I ask that people use their ordinary names. A couple of people are exempt from this – I know who they are, and their ordinary names. There are particular reasons they are exempt. I am interested in conversations here that generate light and little heat.
  • I do not accept ad hominems on this site. I intend this to be a safe place where we can hold and express differences of opinion respectfully. Disagreeing with a person’s position and doing so by pointing out a negative characteristic of the person supporting it is unacceptable. Disagreeing with a person’s position and appearing to argue against it by denigrating an unrelated belief of the person supporting it is also ad hominem. Putting people into a category that they themselves do not use of themselves, and arguing against the constructed category, rather than responding to the particular belief or comment is also ad hominem.
  • Read what a person actually says. Don’t skim quickly, assume, reply.
  • St Ignatius Loyola cautioned us to attempt to put the best construct that we could muster on a person’s statement. If we cannot do that, the appropriate response is firstly to ask the person to clarify. We do not argue with a straw man (the misrepresentation of a person’s position).
  • Flaming, the posting of a provocative or offensive message (“flamebait”) with the intention of provoking anger or argument (a “flame”), is unacceptable.
  • Just as we bring prayer to our non-virtual activities, asking God to bless all we think, say, and do, so we pray about what we do and say online. Prayer does not make it right (“I have prayed about it” can be one of the biggest moral cop-outs). But it is a rare person who has not realised that, in the world of instant reply, pausing before pressing “send” is one of the most important disciplines in the digital age.

Many of these points apply well beyond this site. And in the non-virtual world.

Can I express again my appreciation for you as the community that gathers around this site, your generosity of spirit, and your willingness to listen and dialogue respectfully. In this last week I mentioned to a couple of you that the conversation was tending towards more heat than light; on both occasions my point was taken most graciously and the conversation continued positively and helpfully. Thank you.

Some sites (unlike this one) are perfectly happy to have people use a pseudonym. If it is the truth of the point, rather than who says it, that is important – that has its own integrity. Ad hominems from pseudonymous people remain unacceptable on such sites.

What do you think of my online-behaviour points? Can you add some of your own?

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