Looking for a Happier Internet

January 30th, 2014 by Andrea Bennett

Is identifying people’s online comments as theirs the key to maintaining civility online?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If you feel like going online can feel like diving through a dark portal into the inner monologues of people who really should keep them to themselves, you’re not alone. In The Atlantic, Emma Green wrote about a conversation with Change.org’s Jen Dulski and Liba Rubenstein, Director of Strategy and Outreach at Tumblr, at the Silicon Valley Summit.

While online petitions and online advocacy occasionally prompt actual social change, Green writes, “It’s also true that, some days, social media seems like a repetitive cycle of anger.”

At the summit, Tumblr’s Rubenstein suggested that smart product design can alleviate some of the rage. Foremost amongst these design ideas, she says, is eliminating anonymity from the web. For instance, “Commenting was a cesspool of online exchanges; it’s the ability to dump on someone else’s content and walk away.” She points to Tumblr as a step in the right direction, as those who participate in Tumblr conversations are identified by name, and comments are broadcast to the commenter’s followers.

Further, Rubenstein says, the content on Tumblr is less immediate that the content on some other platforms – notably Twitter, or as Green calls it, the “rage machine.” As Rubenstein asserts, “The lifecycle of a post on Tumblr is very long. We actually see a whole lot of activity on popular posts a month or sometimes a year after posting.” Of course, Tumblr, or any other platform for that matter, isn’t immune to anger and vitriolic speech, but it’s possible that Tumblr’s model will dilute the rage.

How do you avoid the angry spots of the Internet? How can we encourage people to speak more reasonably online? Weigh in here.