“Is the cyber mob a threat to freedom?”

This one was so dumb I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

TEMPLETON BOOK FORUM invites you to “Is the Cyber Mob a Threat to Freedom?” featuring Ron Rosenbaum, Slate, Lee Siegel, The New York Observer, moderated by Michael Goodwin, The New York Post

New Threats to Freedom

Today’s threats to freedom are “much less visible and obvious than they were in the 20th century and may even appear in the guise of social and political progress,” writes Adam Bellow in his introduction to the new essay collection that he has edited for the Templeton Press. Indeed, Bellow suggests, the danger often lies precisely in our “failure or reluctance to notice them.”

According to Ron Rosenbaum and Lee Siegel, in their provocative contributions to the volume, the extraordinary advances made possible by the Internet have come at a sometimes worrisome cost. Rosenbaum focuses on how online anonymity has become a mask encouraging political discourse that is increasingly distorted by vitriol, abuse, and thuggishness. Siegel argues that the Internet has undermined long-established standards of excellence, promoting participation and popularity over talent and originality. Both writers warn against the growing influence of what Siegel calls “interactive mobs.” . . .

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for research and discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support work at the world’s top universities in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social science relating to love, forgiveness, creativity, purpose, and the nature and origin of religious belief. We also seek to stimulate new thinking about freedom and free enterprise, character development, and exceptional cognitive talent and genius.

This came, of course, as an unsolicited email.

Unfortunately, I can’t make it to the event, but perhaps any of you who are there could report back and let us know what “today’s threats to freedom” are, and how they compare to the threats to freedom in the 20th century.

Anonymous bloggers, huh? Too bad George Orwell and Arthur Koestler weren’t around to spread the word about this one. Luckily, we have exemplars of excellence such as Adam Bellow and Lee Siegel to pick up the torch and about the problems with “online anonymity.” I guess Siegel’s the expert on this one. Or maybe they’re going to talk about theoretical physics and cosmology?

P.S. Yeah, I know, I know. Nobody held a gun to my head and made me open the spam filter. Still, it seemed like it could be more interesting than the ad from Grizzly Analytical (“Offering high quality Sanger Sequencing universal primers & NextGen Sequencing adapter primer sets at very considerable savings. Customized sets available. Call or email for specifics.”) or the International Journal of Population Research (from the noted spam-purveyor, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, which charges a mere $425 for the privilege of publishing an article) or “Frank Kibaki,” who “will like you to assist me and my sister to retrieve and receive our consignment over there in American that contains $25million United States dollars and some quantity of gold and Diamond, which I cannot specify.”

Interactive mobs, indeed.

6 thoughts on ““Is the cyber mob a threat to freedom?”

  1. I can't make the event but I think I can sum it up: "These kids today…"

    Mike: Seriously. Anyone who thinks vitriol and abuse is new has forgotten about the libellistes of the French Revolution and our own pamphleteers. 250 years ago the topic of debate would be "Is the Printing Mob a threat to monarchy?"

    Also seriously: registering the domian name "newthreatstofreedom.com" and using the term "Cyber Mob." Poison the well much? Threat to who's freedom exactly?

  2. With anonymous users you can't tell if it's a lot of people writing one post or one person writing many posts under many names.

    Since some people form their opinions based on popular opinion, rather than careful consideration, a lot of posts from one person under many names can sway people's thoughts.

    In a blog (or the old usenet) reasoned arguments can be overlooked amongst a lot of vitriolic and demeaning posts – if a group of 20 people say your ideas are stupid then some people will believe it, especially if the people want to be accepted into the former group. Belonging wins out over rationality sometimes and that, I think, is the mob mentality that's being alluded too.

  3. Megan:

    You have a good point, but complaints about signal being drowned out by noise would be more plausible if coming from people who have actually produced some signal at some time in their lives.

    If you follow the links above, you'll see that Adam Bellow is most famous for being famous for being a member of a famous family–sort of a Paris Hilton without the videos.

    And Lee Siegel is most famous for . . . participating in an online discussion of his own work using a pseudonym and writing, "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep. . . . I'm not Lee Siegel, you imbecile."

    I hardly think people like that are qualified to lecture the rest of us on "standards of excellence" or on "vitriol, abuse, and thuggishness."

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