Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Why this feelgood movement on the internet really is site for sore eyes

It's not all nasty on the internet. On sites like eBay, I'm constantly surprised and delighted by the politeness, praise and all-round feelgood factor that's often to the fore.

But the general vibe on the worldwide web is often rather nasty. Anonymity is the begetter of this bile, aided and abetted by an unlimited democracy where the dim may speak freely and without prior thought. It's like a giant extension of journalism really.

Outwith North Korea and China, there's little desire to control the internet, nor has anyone found a way to regulate human nature let loose by computer. But there are signs that the thing might sort itself out, if a new culture of etiquette and censure could take hold.

America will lead the way here, as it's the most powerful and polite country on Earth. Already, an outbreak of "cyber-graciousness" is sweeping the controversial country, though it all started with its nice neighbour, Canada, to the north.

Young persons, a sector of society normally shunned by decent citizens, are behind the new phenomenon. At Queen's University in Ontario, four members of the species set up web pages where users could give friends a boost - anonymously.

It was branded "reverse trolling" and quickly spread to Facebook sites and the like. Commentators have branded it "a breath of fresh air", and the world has stood agog as pleasantries and morale-boosting messages abound.

Here are some examples. "Rebecca F***** is truly one of the most incredible people I have ever known, and I am supremely blessed to be able to call her my friend." Incidentally, the f-word with asterisks is just her surname, which I've chosen to keep anonymous. It's not abbreviated vulgarity.

"Sam F***** is simply wonderful. Down to earth and kind." How lovely is that? It would be even better if it weren't restricted to people with effing surnames, right enough.

Here's one with an H: "Brody H******** is such a gem. She's always there as a shoulder to cry on and she never fails to make you feel ten times better." Aw, bless. Of course, this sort of thing could get mawkish - particularly in yonder States, where hearts are worn on sleeves - and there are signs that the compliments are getting competitive.

The human race is expert at turning anything it does to kack. But still, often enough, if we become aware of this tendency, we can keep the kack on track.

Will this sort of thing take the train to Palookaville, otherwise known as Britainshire? In other words, could it catch on here? Well, if you've breath about your person, I wouldn't bother holding it. Boorish behaviour seems the norm here, as well as degrees of political ignorance that are truly frightening.

Even the Nazis often get green arrows of approval, at least on the Daily Mail's website, which I suppose should be no surprise.

Some posted views, particularly from expats, who seem especially unhinged, are appalling and almost beyond belief. It's been a revelation to read what many ordinary people feel. We see the psychopath beneath the suburban exterior. It's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hidden Identity. But there must be a strand of common decency out there somewhere, at least beyond eBay. I call upon uncorrupted young people everywhere to dig it out and put it on display.

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