Communication on the Internet


Although networking of computers had been accomplished much earlier, the full force of the internet began in the 1990s with commercial applications and the development of the World Wide Web. Its impact on societies around the world has been major. Independent companies were to provide the needed infrastructure (hardware and software) but the content would come from open, universal discourse expressing the highest fact-based analysis possible. The web and related services were to be removed from partisan government control. Humanity would reach a new level of enlightenment.

Today, the internet is becoming something different – necessary but threatening. We need access to the internet to obtain government services, make purchases from distant suppliers and make contact with friends and associates for business or pleasure. Yet, each time we use the internet we expose ourselves to “invasion” by malware, unauthorized data gathering, and other misuse of our information processing resources.

Perhaps, even more alarming is the use of social media via the internet. What was supposed to be an exchange of ideas to enlighten and advance our knowledge has become a source of innuendo, false accusations, hostile commentary, and gross misinformation. Somehow, the internet has caused too many to forget the meaning and use of civil discourse. This is an issue across virtually all of the social media platforms such as: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, e-mail, and many other media.

Our school training taught us the rules of proper, meaningful, civil communications. Grice’s four maxims of effective communications were enforced. The first is quantity: be as informative as required, but do not make it excessive. The second is the maxim of quality: be truthful, do not say that which is false or for which you lack evidence. The third is the maxim of relation: be relevant, all information presented relates to the issue under consideration. The fourth is the maxim of manner: be clear, avoid obscurity and ambiguity, be orderly.

In addition to the what and how of good communications, we were taught to avoid fallacies (false reasoning). Of the many logical slips that one can make, the fallacy of “ad hominem” – a direct, abusive attack on the person rather than a careful consideration of ideas presented is first on the list. Indeed, much of what passes as information is nothing but an ill-informed attack on a person of note.

In summary, the current practices on the internet are so far removed from the ideals of the 1990s that many are calling for government and suppliers of the infrastructure to intervene and penalize misuse of these resources. However, no matter what restrictions and penalties are enforced, the only real remedy is for users to stop following those who misuse the resources. The most effective method of correcting malicious use of the internet is to ignore the abusers. Soon, such abusers will realize that their rants are only reaching the void.

It is necessary to stop following those who spread misinformation and false news.