The Comfort of Semi-Anonymity
Sometimes I long for the days when I could settle into the couch and enjoy one of the over the top TV dramas like Melrose Place or Dynasty. Of course from time to time I can find just such drama on the Brookland Listserv.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Brookland Listserv. It's a great way to get insights into what folks in the neighborhood are thinking and to connect with like-minded people for projects like the Great Brookland Yard Sale. And I'm not taking issue with folks who offer ideas and suggestions on development or other projects that I may not necessarily agree with.
What strikes me as jaw-dropping though are both the crassness and insensitivity of some of the postings. Perhaps it is the comfort of facing a computer screen that causes us to sometimes loose our sense of decorum, I don't know, but when such comments move beyond differences of opinion and move into personal jabs and denigration, it becomes harmful to the ongoing function of the listserve by causing people to tune out or fragment into more narrowly focused listservs.
The most recent example of this was the Pope's visit to Brookland. For some of us the Pope is God's #1 contact here on Earth, for others he's a bureaucrat/theologian of a large religious organization, for some he is the enabler of a legacy of abuse and repression and perhaps for some of us he is all of these things. Of course, it also provided an opportunity for some anti-Catholic screeds on the listserv that in turn prompted some taunts about gays and lesbians.
Why do we feel comfortable dumping on people of faith and phrasing things in ways that we would NEVER dream about saying in a room full of people? And when faced with such crassness, why do we feel the need to respond in kind?
Of course this brings up an interesting issue? Could a person be banned from the Brookland Listserv?
Usually after one of these exchanges the offending poster makes hay out of 'freedom of expression' and constitution guarantees and such. What most don't realize is that freedom of expression applies to governments and government actors, not individuals. As a private enterprise, the Brookland Listserv is under no obligation to publish or allow an individual to participate in the online community. In fact, there are a few examples when allowing a poster to take things too far could create legal liability for the poster and perhaps the listserve operator, specifically making false, defamatory statements. More importantly, free expression doesn't mean consequence free expression.
Anyway, if there's a point to all this I suppose that it is that we should not be afraid to say what's one our minds, but perhaps be a little more cognizant of how we say what's on our minds. Despite the fact that our message is being communicated on a computer screen, there are real people at the other end of the line.