Perhaps my lowest moment as a user of the Internet came years ago. Until recently if you searched for me by name on Google and used the keyword ‘Firewall’ you’d see at the top of the search list a reference to an email exchange I had with some anonymous Internet user back in the early 2000’s. This person was on a Firewall mailing list and making assertions about the Cisco PIX Firewall. At that time I worked for Cisco and worked closely with the PIX team. This person made the statement that ‘the PIX ran Linux’. I responded that it did not. This person then went on to tell everyone that it did and stated some incorrect reason. I reasserted that it did not. This went on for several messages. Finally in a moment that I wish I could take back I wrote that this person “did not know what they were talking about”.
While that may not sound harsh; I escalated the level of confrontation in this conversation. The other party didn’t just have the facts wrong about the PIX. They didn’t know what they were talking about.
As I write this; what I did doesn’t sound so bad. It was. At that time the Firewall community was smaller and the list this appeared on was important. What I did was step down to a level lower than I was comfortable with. I wouldn’t have said this if the person was in front of me or even on a conference call. I didn’t hide behind a false pseudonym; I had attached my up until that point good name to this message. Other people saw this and commented back to me that I should not have ‘lost it’.
This was ages ago in Internet time. Since then my son has grown up on the Internet and I’ve heard way, way worse coming from the speakers attached to our Playstations and xBoxen. I rarely read the comments associated with news articles for the same reason. Because we allow anonymity in many forums and don’t require people to attach their real name to their comments; we are left with often vile filed and worthless comments and diatribes.
What I learned from that exchange was an important lesson about respect. Both respect for other’s and self respect. I had stooped low. I should ‘t have. I’ve learned that on the Internet it’s better to be silent than disrespect another user whether they are anonymous or not. I now know better that these type of exchanges are too often meaningless in that they don’t change anyone’s mind and only serve to lower other’s opinions. I learned that I have more self respect than that.