The fourth degree

Nearly 15 years ago, I wrote a little piece called “4 degrees of impersonal communications”, describing the way we speak to one another in different settings: in person, over the phone, in emails, and on web sites.

Face-to-face communications (a first degree interaction) has no record, no evidence beyond the memory of the participants. Telephony (second degree) may have a record, such as an audio voice message. Email (3rd degree) gets circulated, over and over. Thanks to search engines and web-archiving tools, the web (4th degree) offers a permanent record.

Paradoxically, we seem to take more care in communications when the conversation can most easily be private and candid. Conversely, we pay less attention to etiquette and courtesy when the audience is global and of diuturnal impact.

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post entitled “Mythbusting Canadian telecom”. A couple weeks ago, I was asked if I would mind them promoting my tweet that linked to the post. At the time, I thought it would be a great way to drive traffic to my blog and Twitter feed.

I should have remembered the 4 degrees thing.

The promoted tweet generated thousands of additional views of the blog post and more than a hundred ‘likes’ of the tweet itself. I added a large number of followers on Twitter and a bunch of subscribers to my blog.

But, it also led to a remarkable number of venomous replies, some crossing the line into virulent antisemitism, virtually all of which came from anonymous accounts. As an aside, a significant proportion of the trolls used cat images, a bunch used Soviet-era communist icons, while most of the others are stuck in their fantasy cartoon and gaming personas. Hiding in their mom’s basement behind the safety of a shield of anonymity, it seems too easy to spread hate and be downright anti-social on some social media platforms.

Confronted with inconvenient facts, apparently some people feel the need to resort to ad hominem attacks, rather than preserving the obscurity they so richly deserve.

I’m not offering a solution; I’m just finding there is some catharsis in venting.

Your comments are welcome. (Reminder: comments are moderated on this platform)

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