I have read about Netizenship becoming an addiction, indeed a mental health problem, since such Netizens cannot have peace of mind until they have read or responded to this or that material on the Web. Of course, responding to a post on the Web -- say a Status update on Facebook or listserv post -- also invites its own condition of loss of peace of mind, since the Netizens responding have to return again and again to read responses to their own responses. Their work lives suffer tremendously too, which is one reason employers of labour want to block Social Network access in their organization's Internet networks. Not that Social Media like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc have no relevance to productivity in the workplace. But when an employee can no longer concentrate on specific tasks in the workplace and spends most of the work hours chatting with friends or fighting listserv wars, it becomes a big problem for an organization.
Netizens that cannot resist responding to issues on the Web could, figuratively speaking, become viruses, infecting other Web users' minds, luring them into endless controversies on the Web. We are in need some immunity against such virus infections. First, one needs self-control to be able to resist responding to such viruses that come in the name of free speech, even when one or one's group is directly mentioned in the message.
It is also important for one to be sufficiently discriminatory in consuming messages found on the Web, or messages that come into one's inbox. Indeed the Web -- let's say a listserv specifically -- witnesses a deluge of messages, most of them quite distracting and injurious to one's orientation to decency. The option then is to IGNORE messages with subjects that relate to controversies. Virus Netizens like and do circulate such controversial messages and wait eagerly to get responses. Indeed, they set traps for particular targets, hoping that such targets would lose their cool and get involved.
Virus Netizens belong to various web-based groups and often unethically circulate posts featured in some groups mainly as a way of spreading the controversy beyond the borders of specific groups. Proliferation is their orientation. In other words, virus Netizens could cause an epidemic, a discourse epidemic. From a legal angle, such mass distribution of group-based discussion or post without permission from the group, or from the specific authors of the posts, in the name of quoting them, should attract litigation. It is a violation of rights to privacy in discourse. You don't eavesdrop to a person's (or group) conversation and then rush to the marketplace to retail it! If "The Web is a free place to die/A dead place to be free," as I have reflected in a poem, "Online Lines," published in Sentinelpoetry, #40, December 2006), it is also a place where a Netiquette exists to differentiate personal freedom from lawlessness and recklessness. The core rules of Netiquette, taken from Virginia Shea's book, Netiquette, are as follows:
THE CORE RULES OF NETIQUETTE
Rule 1: Remember the Human
Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life
Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace
Rule 4: Respect other people's time and bandwidth
Rule 5: Make yourself look good online
Rule 6: Share expert knowledge
Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control
Rule 8: Respect other people's privacy
Rule 9: Don't abuse your power
Rule 10: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes
Individuals operating on the Web have a right to be left undisturbed (a requirement covered by Rules 4 and 8 above), in spite of the fact that the Web is constructed as an open highway, or even a marketplace where one is free to sell one's wares. But you don't get to this highway and begin to drive recklessly, making it impossible for other road users to enjoy their use of the road. You also do not get to the market and impose your wares on the market folks. You don't even have the right to make so much noise in the market, even if you are a gbanjo-gbanjo hawker brandishing a bell in a local African market. You simply do not have the right to intrude into the peaceful lives of others, to ruin such lives with noise and rancor through cross-postings and mass-circulation of messages.
Virus Netizens indeed try to turn the playground into a battleground. If they cannot win at a given battleground, they try to infect other groups, ruining their ongoing civilized conversations. They infect you to make you their weapon (even against your own interest, when you become a virus Netizen too).
I would suggest to moderators of listservs not to be in a hurry to subscribe individuals to their groups for the sake of expanding their membership. They should first research the background of those intending to join. Since virus netizens cannot hide on the Web -- indeed they expose themselves on the Web -- they can easily be identified through a simple Google search. Since it appears that a cure for this human virus is difficult to find, the best option is to keep the virus out. As always, prevention is better than cure. Prevent the virus Netizen from attaching self to your group and to your civilized mind.