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Katz on cypherpunks, in HotWired's Media Rant
[Background: the cypherpunk/pw:cypherpunk account used for HotWired's
Threads discussion section has been used for anonymous flaming and
Linkname: The Netizen - Media Rant - Jon Katz
30 Sep 96
In addition, the digital culture has long been demonized by the
outside world and is inherently defensive and edgy.
Cypherpunks give us fascinating insights into this subject, since
their equivalent exists in no other medium, and they epitomize the
often mindless verbal violence that characterizes some parts of the
Net. Their original purpose - techno-anarchy and advocating unfettered
access to information - conflict head-on with the Web's mainstreaming
and the arrival of the newly wired middle class.
Cypherpunks don't want real confrontations or discussions, or they
would reveal their identities and make it possible to respond, as most
flamers do. They are among media's rarest and at the same time most
easily recognized subspecies: nihilists.
Anonymous communication makes verbal violence easy. Since most flamers
don't know their targets and won't ever meet them, it's easy enough to
attack individuals and question personal motives, with none of the
social consequences of face-to-face verbal assaults.
And Net communication also offers no filter: because it's
instantaneous, people often don't take the time to cool off, reflect,
or take another look at the messages they mail and post.
When tempers flare here, it doesn't even take the time of a phone call
to pop off. So, hostile messages are often impulsive and frequently
regretted, apologized for, or taken back and clarified.
Since the Net makes communication so easy, it makes corrections,
criticism, and discussion inevitable. Nobody who writes or posts on
the Web should expect anything less than sustained and continuous
challenge and critique, something that is rarely permitted in
mainstream journalism. Web writers and posters have to see these as
integral to their work - not simply attacks - and as healthy antidotes
to conventional media arrogance and elitism.
Accompanying the hundreds and hundreds of personally assaultive
messages I've gotten - as opposed to the thousands of simply critical
ones - there is a strange and recurring phenomenon: If you respond
quickly and respectfully, the overwhelming majority of hostile
emailers either apologize, change their tone, or write back in a more
reflective, serious, or friendly way. Most of these posters are
stunned that anyone read their mail in the first place, or, even more
amazingly, responded to it.