Just because you're posting to a website, it doesn't mean that you can say just anything about anyone. Especially if you're not brave enough to give your real name.
This article appears in the February 07 issue of PC Advisor, onsale now in all good newsagents.
Diving into the murky waters of internet opinion can be a bracing experience. Sully the good name of techadvisor.co.uk by making an error in a blog, for instance, and you'll soon be slapped down (or is this just me?). And this can only be a good thing. The net is a great leveller, after all, and the days of the lazy hack churning out self-important drivel with impunity are long gone (sobs).
Even when handled with care, certain subjects are guaranteed to provoke outrage from a section of our online readership. Mention of the words 'PS3' or 'Xbox 360', for example, always leads to fierce exchanges. And if you dare to suggest that Apple's Mac is not the greatest invention since God herself, you'd best batten down the hatches as the mung-bean brigade start hurling sandals and white earphones your way. (It is just a brand of computer, right?)
Healthy debate is exactly that. And the more our readers contribute the better (less work for Matt). But all too often, it seems, some web users feel their perceived anonymity allows them to behave in any way they choose. PCA forum users are without exception helpful and polite, but we get our share of abusive postings on blog responses (what's a 'douche bag' anyway?) Not from people who leave real names, however...
Which is irritating, but a far cry from the case of Neil Martin. He's the man jailed for posting racist abuse about the murdered teenager Anthony Walker. A far cry, that is, until you read Mr Martin's defence that he lived in an online 'fantasy world' where his persona could be good or bad.
The web is still new and, like all frontier towns, it lacks fully established social mores and etiquette. Debate and opinion should always be welcome, but we don't have to tolerate insulting behaviour. Especially when the poster lacks the cojones to use their real name.