If you have ever been a part of a gaming community, forum, Youtube, Myspace, Facebook, or anything else that groups people together on the internet, then you have met a few of them. The Epeen Ethugs and trolls. They are everywhere, and literally think that just being on the internet entitles them to say whatever comes to mind without any consideration to others that might read it. I think we all have read the stories of people being charged with crimes over abusing others on the internet, but as internet use starts younger and younger, we can expect more of this to happen.
I think of being online the same as being anywhere else, and anyone I don’t know (personally) as a stranger. You would not walk into a coffee shop and yell obscenities at a complete stranger, then when confronted about it say “What? Its just a coffee shop!” Why? Well, several reasons come to mind, but the bottom line is there are consequences. The thought of provoking a fight or being arrested isn’t very appealing to most people, so they avoid doing things like that. What is really scary is some people who are really nice in their everyday lives, do a complete Jekyll & Hyde transformation once they log on to the internet.
I was once told by a college professor that “The internet gives its users a sense of anonymity and and is worn like a suit of armor that protects them from retribution.” I think he hit the nail directly on the head with that statement. On the internet, it is a very different story. People will use racist slurs, sexually discriminative comments, insults toward you, your mother, and anything else that they can think of that makes them feel “empowered”. Another word for it is “Bully”. They will even go as far as pulling the “Freedom of Speech” card, which is just another way of saying “I refuse to think before I speak, and you should have to deal with it”. Every forum, game, community, and service online has one or all of these: End License Agreement (EULA), Rules of Conduct (RoC), guidelines, and agreements. They include little rules in there that basically say, “Don’t abuse other users”. You have to check “Yes” in order to agree, then to download and play a game. All forums will will usually do the same when you create your account. What this means is you are agreeing to abide by their rules or risk losing access to their service or site. In other words, the “Freedom of Speech” card doesn’t work here. It only works when you are on your page, site, property, grounds, etc.
So why do so many still abuse other users when they are using online services even after “agreeing” not to do just that? Another question I have is, why is this considered “normal” on the internet. I have seen players/users say things like “It’s just a game”, (my favorite) “It’s the internet get used to it”, and “Who are you the internet police?” This is almost as bad as the wonderful “I was drunk” excuse. Just because you are on the internet doesn’t mean you have a “green light” to push anyones buttons, be racist, be derogatory, or generally be a complete jerk. Logging on to a forum, community or game is the same as walking into any other establishment in the real world that is full of strangers. You would not verbally assault them, so why do it online?