Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Online comments “make me sick to my stomach”

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2008 by 2 comments

The ONE Central Neighborhood Forum in Burlington’s Old North End has been carrying on several in depth conversations lately. One focuses on neighborhood cats… trade-offs of indoor vs. outdoor cats and related issues. I’ve been impressed by how civil, constructive and caring the dozens of postings have been. A great use of Front Porch Forum.

An interesting contrast was offered today in one such post…

I have read quite a few posts on Craigslist’s Rants and Rave section about people in the old north end that have threatened and apparently followed through with killing or torturing some of the outdoor cats in our neighborhood. It just makes me sick to my stomach to think someone would do such a thing but I wouldn’t doubt it either.

I don’t intend to pick on Craigslist in particular, but this is just the kind of thing that seems common in anonymous unmoderated open online forums. Someone must have already coined a term for this phenomenon. These ground rules… unsupervised, unknown identity, anyone can participate… they seem to often lead toward this ugly side of human nature. Hardly seems the highest and best use for this amazing technology we have at our disposal.

UPDATE: Kevin’s comment below got me thinking about a couple previous postings…
Constructive war talk among neighbors
Masked marauders invade cyberspace

Posted in: Burlington, Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, Neighborhood, Online Civility, Social Networking, Stories, Vermont


  1. Kevin Harris says:

    hi Michael – I think there are two fundamental issues of human communication here, and I agree with you on one of them and probably disagree on the other… I agree that forums with ‘unknown identity’ can be highly problematic. But I think we should be very wary of stifling disagreement or contentious comment.

    As it happens, I dislike cats profoundly (because I don’t like finding their mess in my garden, especially when my kids were young; and I quite like having birds in the neighbourhood). I happen to think people who own cats are antisocial. But I would take no exception to the remark you quote.

    Indeed, if I was sitting in a pub and someone nearby made this remark, I’d probably try to engage them in what I hope would be a healthy discussion. So I guess my point is that in our concerns for moderation (a better term than ‘supervision’, I suggest) and our aversion to potential conflict, we risk stifling diversity of opinion, and that would be disastrous (and I’m sure we agree about that!)



  2. Michael says:

    Thought provoking comment Kevin… thanks.

    I agree that we need open places for discussion… no holds barred. My concern is that a disproportionately huge part of the Web 2.0 is like that and dominated by a tiny, vocal, often nasty, anonymous lot.

    Reminds me of towns in the Wild West before the farmers and families arrived in sufficient numbers.

    I raised the issue because I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how engaged people are with their neighbors through Front Porch Forum while keeping these online conversations remarkably civil and constructive… even when getting into divisive issues. I’m thrilled to have an online space like this in our community when many others lean heavily toward the the “wild west” model.

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