Internet message boards are the sites of pitched battle. Threads on YouTube soon become arenas of abuse. On imdb.com there is open war between lovers of art-house cinema and those who favour Hollywood blockbusters or genre films. The arguments follow a familiar line: a poster will declare that Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is a work of artistic genius. Someone else will confess to having been bored by it. After which, a third commenter, horrified at this cultural blasphemy, will say: ‘Well, go and watch The Nutty Professor then.’ At some point, the word ‘pretentious’ will be thrown in; the nationality of posters often becomes an issue. And on it goes until the coffee break of the site moderator is interrupted.
The internet mood is one of an anger waiting to be expressed, an offence longing to be taken. Arguments are ‘won’ simply by saying ‘it’s only your opinion so nahhhh.’ The notion that wit, wisdom, patience and self-possession should characterise debate is quaint. Restraint and tolerance are not suited to the adolescent state of the internet, nor do they apply to the querulous times through which we stumble. The statement that we all have the right to an opinion is the ultimate modern argument breaker, splenetic disagreement with the opinion being expressed the current height of riposte.
The notorious problem of online tone makes confrontation on the internet inevitable. A sarcastic remark is seen as direct attack, a point is misunderstood, a row ensues. Mischief making is oxygen online, the superficial anonymity of the system allowing us to bait others without consequence, before we disappear into the electronic undergrowth. Online, we are more susceptible to the trolls within and without. Now, I wonder what the Three Billy Goats Gruff are up to.