Sunday, March 21, 2004

Honesty on the Internet

Well, that'll teach me to post an entry before I read whether anyone else had anything I wanted to comment on.

In Scalzi's entry right around here he found an article about people being more honest on the internet than in person.

I am. On purpose. And I've got me a hifalutin sociological reason for it.

Back in college, I took a course taught in the Socratic method (I mentioned it a zillion posts ago in a four-parter called "Foundations" that I'm too lazy to find the link for). ANYWAY, one of the questions posed by the professor in that class was what is the first rule that is necessary for any society. And we tried for days to figure it out. Don't kill other people? Respect property ownership? We couldn't get it. And finally our Professor walked us to the answer -- an agreement to tell the truth. You can't have any society of any kind until the participants have agreed, expressly or tacitly, to speak the truth.

I think that's right. And I like to think of the internet as something of a nascent community. And because of that, if the community is going to have any chance at survival at all, we need a general understanding that we'll tell the truth.

For me, this was actually a conscious decision when I first came on the internet. But I do think that in some sort of subconscious way, most of us have probably sensed the need for honestly and acted accordingly. I mean, what purpose in having web sites and message board postings if people can just spout whatever bullshit they want with impunity? People have to be able to work under the assumption that everyone else here is expected to be telling the truth.

Now, sure, there are exceptions -- and I think the longer a community has been around, the more dishonesty it can take without completely disintegrating. And that's why I'll be more honest here than in the real world.

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