The Digital Battleground

Waging war on the internet, one comment at a time

by Aaron Grierson

Everyone knows about news on various scales; local, national, international. The internet helps facilitate faster access to information, from Google, to news websites, to posts on social media. The potential for one’s exposure to news has increased exponentially.

This increase subsequently results in increased reactions, not just in quantity but in volatility as well. Even on regular news websites, some of the commentary is not only poorly spelled but can become quite inflammatory, especially when directed at a certain user or users, while being totally irrelevant to the news item in question. This sort of hateful backlash is exemplary of larger underlying problems that are elemental to the internet.

Conflict is the root issue. By most standards, various forms of conflict are seen as inevitable, like fistfighting in the schoolyard or arguments between two people. More serious conflicts that tend to be discouraged might include armed assault or verbal harassment. Each of these may, in some contexts, be considered bullying. Bullying has been extensively persecuted in many Western countries, and despite this, is still a very widespread problem. The internet, as one might expect, makes bullying possible through anonymity and 24/7 access to known or potential victims. These interpersonal conflicts are quite obscene to any decent person, but we may not want to view our children or cowokers as indecent, perhaps searching for some deep-rooted anger or jealousy; some source of the conflict. These quests are often fruitless, as knowledge of a bully is something difficult to attain for a victim, and may be problematic for any proxy. Unfortunately the roots of bullying go well beyond the internet or schoolyard.

Individuals aside, the act of bullying shares many characteristics with a more historically widespread activity: the act of war. If an individual is simply irrationally violent, or otherwise lashing out due to personal issues, the problem would, no doubt, compound with several such individuals. However, war seldom happens without an instigating factor. No matter how petty, politicized, or well intentioned, war has a definable cause, a raison d’être. So it would seem that war and bullying are somewhat disconnected.

War and the internet, on the other hand are perfectly connected. Perhaps too perfectly. Not only is war advertised by all forms of media, but it is brought much closer to home. Through the internet the battlefront becomes the homefront, available at your nearest electronic screen. The war then becomes fodder for any angry ranter, from disjointed, impassioned comments on forums to thoughtful and well reasoned entries on blogs. The degree to which we see ourselves as having free speech as an inalienable right fuels these fires. Sometimes to the extent that commentary becomes an interfaction war on the homefront. The internet simply makes the process easier for people by providing them a shield from immediacy and contact with others.

At the same time, the internet enables people to more safely express their opinions on topics like war, arguably in the most democratic way possible. Everyone can read or listen to everyone else’s opinion on various issues by way of the ‘information superhighway’. As we have all no doubt experienced, these forums often result in arguments, which begs the question: why are forums of communication as open as they are?

It’s just a guess but it seems the answer lies in idealism. We want a world where people can say whatever they want, and while possible in theory the reality of things is that invariably someone gets offended at some point. So for some, it seems as though war overseas may become war at home. This is an unfortunate tension, and is one that needs to be kept in check. Rather than toting freedom of speech as a sort of endgame defense against any accusation concerning opinions, people need to be a little more aware, that a person’s opinion is just that. There is generally no weapon being put against our heads to change our minds or defend ourselves to the death, and so we may, in theory, say whatever we want.

Perhaps when it comes to opinionbased conflicts over the internet, no matter what the issue, people should concede their opponents’ position, should it be a fair and rational one, such as those not involving genocide or segregation of certain peoples. This way, while we may not be able to end war on an international level, we may keep the peace at home and on screen. It may seem redundant, or even despondant, but the potential for any and all change is in the hands of us, the readers. The internet is like a tank, capable both of being a simple showpiece or a serious explosive power. But so far it seems like any potential is being used more for destructive or otherwise harmful purposes, with beneficial initiatives taking the back seat for both funding and exposure.

Then again, there is always hope the net will expand and envelope the bullets and bombs of today in a cloud of antiquated methods of problem solving, propelling (in a lesser theoretical extent) the world’s advancement towards peace.