There is a bigger issue which is the decline of civility in general. For example, political discourse is at an all time low on the civility scale.
It may not have started on the Internet, but it certainly serves as a convenient platform for incivility.
Take the USA Today story mentioned above. If you look at it on-line, you will find numerous malevolent comments, many of which have nothing to do with the story itself but rather are directed toward previous commenters, including the following:
What's it like to go through life with no IQ like you do?
Would it be asking too much to put a verb or semicolon in a sentence?
The best thing these idiotic "scholars" can do for America is volunteer to go to Afghanistan and clear minefields by walking across them. Of course, in that they're not patriotic, they won't...
These sissy-chicks (all liberals, of course) make real women look bad. Go back to your mommies and leave normal people alone.
Encourage respect and tolerance? Why is it these LEFTIST professors NEVER encourage respect and tolerance towards individuals promoting a CONSERVATIVE viewpoint. Instead, they try to CENSOR any political viewpoint that is not in LOCKSTEP with their LEFTIST AGENDA. HYPOCRITES!!!!!
WELL, IN THE NAME OF FREE SPEECH I WILL FIGHT BACK IF SOMEONE START TELLING ME UGLY OR RACIST NAMES. I HAVE PLENTY OF AMMUNITIONS SO WE'LL SEE WHO GAVE UP FIRST.
I agree with many who say it is about the anonymity that the Internet provides. As one of the more coherent commenters pointed out, many of the rants would not have been made if real names had to be used. As a by-product of the decline in civility comes a decline in grammar, spelling and punctuation.
This trend has infected Sermo, a doctors only on-line community, as well.
Here are two excerpts from comments on a post of mine on Sermo from three weeks ago:
A surgeon: Also no need for me to see the film or examine the patient, although of course I did both, you ass.
A radiologist: Well, it seems, surgeon, if you have a radiologist who cannot tell "worsening bilateral pneumonia" from atelectasis, you are working in a hospital with perhaps suboptimal radiologists. As for the "you ass" part, FUCK OFF pissant.
I doubt that exchange would have taken place in the cafeteria or the doctors' lounge.
What do you think? A version of this post appeared on Sermo yesterday and the few who commented all felt that civility is declining and most agreed that the Internet was fueling that decline.