Yes, there are mobs on the Internet. Watch out. They cause pain. They can occasionally exhibit humor in doing so, and they pile on. Why should the Internet be any different than any other facet of life on this planet that humans engage in? Some folks are examining their own behavior in the context of mobs (or trolls, or whatever) and (kudos to them) looking for their own ways to try and stem the behavior of others.
I find their efforts noble and well meaning, hope they will makes some difference, but have my doubts. Humans historically screw up everything they touch and create. Some do it under the self delusion that they know better. Some do it to score points in some game they perceive we are all playing. Some do it simply because it is fun. It is always easier to tear down something than it is to build it, even when you don’t realize that’s what you are doing. Robert Scoble suggests we have two choices in our Internet lives. Hurt or help. He’s right as far as that goes. But the history of all of this (and it goes back long before the Internet) is that those who are intelligent and empathetic enough to make the better choice, leave the playing field as the mob shows signs of taking over.
The still young Internet already has a graveyard as littered with the victims of mob-like behavior as any other form of human endeavor. Mike Arrington sees a similar fate for Friendfeed. He needn’t have limited it to Friendfeed. Without using the same language, but expressing similar concerns, those that are debating this issue have themselves said similar things recently about Twitter once the celebrities and spammers found it. The list of services spoiled by mobs and trolls include forums, newsgroups, blog commenting systems, and services that started as exciting and crucial new forms of communication and then faded away as the trolls, spammers, and malcontents came. Arrington points out that Friendfeed comes close to erasing the anonymity factor that allowed Internet bullying and mobs to propagate in other venues. But does it really? While some (not all) use their real names or identifiable identities, they still get to hide in the comfort of a crowd, only that comfort (cold as it may be) comes from the glow of a monitor and the click of a keyboard.
Arrington suggests that the system is breaking under its own weight and is not sustainable, and although he has bigger aims than just the danger he senses with Friendfeed, he stops short of where the real problem lies, our own failings as human beings. It would be a great thing if the Internet, or any facet of it, could change that within us, but I just don’t see that, even as some try to alter their own behavior to try.