By Stewart Bloor:

The Internet is certainly a wonderful tool that, if used correctly, will enhance the world of fishing. The benefits to the 'on-line' angler are enormous. The fact that you are reading this right now is evidence to the point I am trying to make. You may be reading this in any of the four corners of the earth, at any given time of the day or night.

As a keen angler, and also one that has made use of modern computer technology, my angling has literally taken on new dimensions. I'm part of fishing discussion groups, I contribute to a number of forums regularly and partake in chatroom discussions. The latter is amazing, 'x' number of anglers from all around the country 'chatting' together - brilliant technology, which we can use for our advantage.

I'm also part of a specimen group that owes its very existence to the Internet – the Specialist Web Angler's group (SWAG). All members are connected by the Internet, and even though we are geographically spread across the country, SWAG members probably have more communication with each other than the average local club members, who live in the same street! However, for as much as I am singing the praises of the Net, I also want to voice concerns. And indeed, even share my thoughts on what I have decided to call 'Netiquette'.

There is no doubt that for some, the Net offers an escape from the real world. I read a comment recently from a top carp angler that he has been on forums where people have claimed to be him...Certainly, there is the opportunity to fantasise and hide from reality in the wonderful world of the Net. As a regular contributor to numerous fishing related contribution sites, I've seen both the good and bad sides of human nature. I'm writing this article, I suppose, based on the darker side of what I've witnessed.

Whenever we contribute, whether to a forum, chatroom or mailing list type group, remember one thing. We are dealing with people. Just because we can't see the faces of others, we are still communicating with flesh and blood. With people who have emotions and feelings. To be honest, I've come across some of the rudest, most arrogant pig-headed people I have ever met since being 'on-line'. But of course, we don't let the 'baby out with the bathwater' and I've also met some really nice people, who I now consider to be good friends.

It's OK to have an opinion, there's nothing wrong with that. But for the tiny minority that frequent Cyberspace, the only opinion that's worth considering, as far as they are concerned, is theirs. Everyone else is wrong, and they'll let you know it in no uncertain terms, if you dare utter even a hint of disagreement with them. I'm not suggesting that cliques should ever develop, but it's refreshing to see responsible Net users stick together and 'shout down' the sort of people I am talking about. But doing so in the right spirit. Remember, two wrongs don't make a right.

We're all human, and there are those days where everything has gone wrong and we end up in a foul mood. Sitting down at the end of the day, we open up our computer, check our e-mails and visit the forum. Bang... like a red rag to a bull, we read something that gets us going. So what do we do? Our fingers go into overdrive, typing out an answer, and hitting the 'enter' button with relish. 'That's shown them' we think to ourselves, as we go off to bed.

So the recipient of our mail has now received his reply. Now it's his turn to go through his 'red rag to a bull' stage. Only, to keep one step ahead, his mail to us is even more aggressive and provocative than ours was. Thus starts a vicious circle. I've seen it happen many times. I've witnessed exchanges of mails that have literally ended up as slanging matches and threats of violence have ensued.

Never send a mail of this nature when angry, tired or irritated. The problem is that when we wake up the next day we may think differently. We've calmed down and slept off the frustration of the previous day. Only, what's been done has been done. How many of us have sent mails that we have regretted at a later date? Probably most of us, if we're honest with ourselves. Don't do it! Think twice before hitting the 'send' button. Going to bed on something is a wonderful therapy.

If you're the sort of person who likes a drink or two at the end of the day while you unwind with your computer, resist the temptation of 'letting the drink talk'. The worst thing to do when you've had a skinful is to get involved in an argument online. You may sober up next day, but what you said when in a drunken stupor will still be there on screen to haunt you.

The problem with e-mails and forums in general is that they are simply words on a screen. There is no emotion involved as such, how you feel is difficult to communicate. It's hard to get over that 'twinkle in the eye' approach. This is why things are often taken the wrong way.

Banter is a feature of any gathering of predominantly males, and fishing forums, chat rooms and mailing lists are no different. But, and I feel it's very important, before we start to wind each other up, we need to have some sort of friendship or relationship with the other person first. And, of course, as far as teasing is concerned, we ought to be able to take it as well as give it out. But we also need to be sensitive to others feelings whenever we are in a banter type exchange. It's a fine line between having a laugh and causing offence to a person.

We also need to be very sensitive as far as bad language is concerned. Now please don't misunderstand me here, I'm not trying to take any form of moral high ground. Those who know me know that I don't swear (well, you would expect that from a Rev, wouldn't you...), but also that I don't try to impose my standards on others. But remember, we all have different levels of acceptability and some may be offended. For the sake of unity, we need to take into account the sensitivity of others.

Take into account of course that my comments about bad language reflect the fact that the average fishing forum, site or chatroom is visited by all age groups. Although the main group of visitors will probably be adult males, there is a good chance that kids may be reading what we write. As fishing is struggling to reach the younger generation as it is, the last thing we want is for parents to stop their offspring from visiting fishing related sites because of the bad language they encounter.

In these days of easy computer access, the Net is not exclusive in any way. As more and more people come on line there are those visiting angling sites from a whole range of different backgrounds. The average forum is likely to have contributors that are very well educated, perhaps with a university education. But it is also likely to have those who perhaps struggle with spelling and find it difficult to communicate as clearly as they would like to. There is no place for intellectual snobbery. We are here to discuss fishing, and to do so in an environment that gives credit to our sport. To witness a thread whereby someone who is losing an 'argument', or not coming out very well in the debate, start to mock another's spelling mistakes, grammar or punctuation is, quite frankly, out of order. We are here to discuss the pastime that we love, not nit-pick the 'faults' that we see in others.

Let's take advantage of the Internet. It's certainly something that we are very privileged to enjoy. But let's ensure that it enhances the reputation of our sport, not destroys it. Happy angling and Happy surfing....

Stewart Bloor