Coming to terms with being human.


Natural Reactions (Part One)

I decided to post this after deleting another bit of spam from my inbox. It went a little long, so the conclusion will come in the next post.

Current legislation and programs against spam have me worried. Although I can’t stand the spam technique, creating architecture that blocks information can only work against Internet users. The solution to spam is found in meatspace, in social environments that pay attention to the natural communication practices of human beings.
Spam is such a prevalent and foreseeable problem of Internet communication. In Game Theory, spammers would be considered freeloaders, individuals that profit from a system at the expense of the other participants. Freeloaders develop when a system requires cooperation between users but does not provide a satisfactory way of telling whether a particular user is participating constructively.

In the case of online communication, spammers subvert the system by not conforming to humanities inherent social processes. Inherent social processes develop out of our epigenetic makeup, ISPs are the basis for the social rules that every culture has in place and the majority of humans naturally follow. These include proximity rules (strangers do not normally rub up on other people), social deference (such as a quick con permiso when passing through a tightly packed crowd), and a hundred other unwritten rules. In meatspace, ISPs lead us to develop social environments that conform to and , ideally, enhance social interaction.

Unlike meatspace, the Internet was not initially developed with ISPs in mind. This allows spammers, chat flamers, role-playing campers, and the like to perform non-social and anti-social actions with impunity. Flame wars and road rage are textbook examples of the price paid for ignoring ISPs. John Cleese, in a BBC series entitled The Human Face, proposed a theory of road rage. He asked why people are having rage problems in cars but not on sidewalks. Cleese’s proposal was that on the sidewalk body language and verbal niceties calm potential altercations. Cars, on the other hand, are devoid of body language. When a person cuts us of on the highway there is no way to tell if it was accidental or intentional. In the same way, flame wars in chat rooms burn out of control due to the terse nature of the written word. Sarcasm is mistaken for real attitudes, jokes are taken as slights. The chat community has even developed it’s own hieroglyphs to alleviate the problem.
Of course, not all flame wars are caused by misunderstanding. Many freeloaders take advantage of the relative anonymity of the online environment to let lose the worst side of their personality. Solutions are being developed for this also. Sites like Slashdot and Kuro5hin utilize reputation systems that reign in the worse side of human nature. Reputation systems rank users by their status in the online community. Mindless posts are given low ratings; allowing readers to disregard the drivel and giving writers a reason to be civil and well-informed. Reputation systems layer a social structure into online communication, paying due attention to ISPs and profiting from it.
If Internet users want to solve the spam issue they need to support measures that conform the online world to real world social structures. More on this later…


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