But when British diver Tom Daley didn't earn a medal at the Olympic gameshe became the subject of Internet comments that were just plain mean. Daley's father had recently died from brain cancer.
The first time I heard about the internet was in Online discussion is made up of many things: jokes, useful information, delightful oddities, inane ephemera and Gifs of Ryan Gosling.
But as long as there has been an internet, people have argued on it. On social media you can see university professors arguing with climate deniers, politicians arguing with anti-austerity protesters, famous atheists arguing with anonymous Christians, Taylor Swift fans arguing with Nicki Minaj fans and the well-intentioned arguing with the malevolent.
People argue passionately. They argue creatively. They argue compulsively. There are misunderstandings and lapses of humour. Minor differences of opinion spiral into incivility — and, to be fair, pleasant arguments often stay pleasant. Nowadays, even the most debate-averse people find themselves engaging with online arguments vicariously, sucking up dubiously sourced opinions and counteropinions as if by osmosis.
He became interested in online discussion when he worked with a political website in the mid noughties.
It was definitely a corrective to the very optimistic view that the only thing preventing people engaging in politics was the lack of mass communications technology. This person was immersed in a world of ideas and argued logically. With many people striving for their 15 minutes of fame by pronouncing their viewpoints, we all have gotten used to online proclamations about something or other, proclamations easily disagreed with by someone.
This audience is potentially vast but often, in actuality, tiny. Online identities Conspicuous opining may be the new conspicuous consumption. When you realise that anyone can read what you put online, link to it and pass comment on it, you can only conclude that the internet is fundamentally a contested space.
The arguer even forgets that another real, alive person exists at the other end of his or her words. So there is quite a gulf between instantly public global communication and these very, very private thoughts.
So a private thought — That guy is an idiot — can easily become an undeletable public announcement: You are an idiot. People have been calling each other idiots for a very long time but never before in such epic terms. Online, the potential to choose and sharpen conversational weapons means arguments ramp up and become emotionally charged faster than face to face.
But today those steps have been shortened drastically. And no matter how pure the original motivation for arguing, says Mc Mahon, at a certain point different priorities assert themselves. You can convince people with a straight, logical, clear argument, but that usually only happens in a minority of cases, when the other person has no opinion whatsoever, and when they are open to be persuaded.
There are people who actively reinforce their own views by reading the opposite side of the argument. Those principles apply as much to online behaviour as they do to offline behaviour.
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He compares it to gladiatorial combat. Acting out aggressive urges is no longer socially acceptable within our civilisation, except perhaps voyeuristically — witness the popularity of mixed martial arts, for example.
The rest of us make do with the virtual version of combat, acting out those ancient urges online. People want to be known. People like to be liked. I like the immediacy. I like the democracy of it. And I see huge potential with it, which is why I choose to engage still. I will engage with an anonymous person.
People misunderstand you. Sometimes you misunderstand people. One thing social media does is it traps quite a bit of your attention and time. So where you had more time to reflect and think, now you have far less.
Labour Party TD Do you argue much online? If you provide alternative information you can shift their position. Most people disagree respectfully on Twitter. I would try not to be personal, and if I make an inaccurate statement I go back and try to correct it.
Then I got my first screed of hate mail. The other reason is to counter a narrative, because narratives get built up very quickly. I do it less now.
But I also moderate it a bit. I doubt it. I think it changes who we have to argue with. Do you remember any time your mind was changed by an online argument? I think I certainly have convinced people to think a bit more deeply about their own assertions.
Does the existence of the internet mean you argue more than you might have done in the past? Yes, I think it does. I have access to people who will argue about pretty much anything.
Too many times; too many handbags. Do you enjoy it? Yes, but not always.
I engage in online discussion because I want to influence debate. It also helps to hone my understanding of an issue if I bounce my ideas into the room. I don't remember changing anyone's mind. The people I usually engage with hold entrenched views. I seem to like to take on the most obdurate.
I suppose I am a bit of a masochist.
Has your own mind ever been changed? My views on feminism changed as a result of engagement in the IT forum. Generally though, my tone has become more sensitive to those whose opinions are different to mine.
Does the existence of the internet mean you argue more than in the past? I used to take the arguments to heart and get really upset at people. Now I am more sanguine. It is akin to passing by a car crash sometimes.
You promise yourself that this time you won't look but you can't help yourself. I do enjoy the writing bit though. It is like a social centre for the mildly deranged I think.