Among many, there seems to be a belief in the intrinsic value of online conversations. The world is flat. Ordinary people are being empowered. Governments and corporations are being held accountable.

It is all true to an extent. But I think the story that isn’t being told enough is how divisive and pointless much of the online conversation really is. A few examples I’ve come across the last few weeks:

(1) I’m a San Antonio native, huge Spurs fan and geek, so I went online and read some of the discussion about the heartbreaking Dallas – San Antonio NBA series. Not a productive use of my time. I’m fairly certain most of the posters were drunk. Flame wars. Personal attacks. Awful language. Two posters were so upset with each other that they were making arrangements to meet in person so they could fight. The Internet Tough Guy in action.

(2) Sadly, much of the political discussion taking place online isn’t much better. Republicans are racist! Democrats are socialists! Blah, blah, blah. Sure, occasionally substantive, important discussions break out. But just as often people are simply seeking out others who think just like they do. The result isn’t enlightenment, it is the hardening of beliefs and division.

(3) I recently read an article about the rise of a trend called Internet hunting in China. It’s quite disturbing. In essence, some Chinese Internet users are using the web to carry out personal vendettas. In one case, a husband used an Internet message board to post a diatribe accusing a Chinese student of having an affair with his wife. An online mob formed against the student, with some supporters of the husband organizing online to hunt down the student. An online mob!

The point has been made many times by people a lot smarter than I am: the conversations taking place online are a reflection of human nature. In many cases, the anononymity provided by the Internet brings out the worst in us.

I don’t really have a big point here. I just would caution that the online conversation isn’t as enlightened as many evangelists would have us believe. And in many cases the conversation is tearing us apart more than it is bringing us together.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.