Most people who comment online hide their identity, but what's the consequence?
Published: Sunday, May 9, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
The story of the Lantern photographer who took pictures of runaway cows garnered a lot of attention and yielded many online comments from readers. As I was glancing through the comment section on some of the stories, I noticed a glaring trend. After looking more closely and crunching some numbers, I found that more than half of the posts were labeled "Anonymous."
This reminded me of the time I met a man named Anonymous. Everyone called him Imus for short. We had a back-and-forth conversation about this very topic:
"This anonymous posting nonsense has got to stop," he said. "People are not responsible for their words anymore. Any freckle-faced loser can go online and say whatever he wants without repercussions."
Is it really that important to hold online commenters accountable? I asked. Are they really causing any harm?
"The moral fabric of society is falling through the cracks, in part because no one has to think before they speak."
Well, I agree that our values are deteriorating, but I don't know how much anonymous posts have to do with it. It is merely citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. Nobody said it had to be pretty. And besides, most newspapers reserve the right to delete a post if it finds the content overly insensitive.
"But newspapers seem pretty reluctant to delete anything. Most of the trash spewed on the Internet stays there forever."
So what? Just be sure to read the comments with your big boy glasses on. Besides, you are only picking out the negatives. Sometimes, people anonymously post valuable information that the paper then researches. If the commenter's claim is full of holes, it is disregarded. But if it is verified, it can be helpful to the press, which then benefits the public.
"But how often does that happen?"
Probably not often enough to make you happy, but it does happen.
"My point is that the childish mudslinging people often resort to tarnishes public discourse. And that is caused by people who can write without revealing their identity."
But to be fair, no one really knows who comments on the web. Unless someone includes his or her e-mail address in the post, which almost never happens, that person's identity is unknown. People can use whatever pseudonym they want.
"Then those people are wrong, too."
Perhaps, but let's not forget the entertainment value. People let their hair down and say things they wouldn't normally say, which I consider a positive. It also gives readers an opportunity to tell a columnist what they think. Say, for instance, someone wrote a column consisting entirely of unrealistic dialogue and used a person whose name was used solely for satirical purposes. Wouldn't you want a chance to tell that writer what you thought?
"Yeah, that would be bad. Do you think a writer would ever do that?"
I can think of one.
"Honestly, though, is expecting someone to use his or her real name too much to ask? Not to mention, it is extremely confusing to see my name sprinkled throughout a comment wall before I've even read the column."
Have you ever considered changing your name?
"Absolutely not. I shall remain Anonymous."