With great anonymity comes absolutely no responsibility


Aug. 10, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.

I love technology. It has given us so many modern marvels. Take, for instance, the fact that we now have a blanket with sleeves. SLEEVES! That alone has changed the lives of the dozens of people who struggled for years with the task of operating a standard-issue blanket.

Not to mention, technology has also given us KFC's Double Down sandwich (or as I like to call it, a heart attack to go).

And don't even get me started on the motorized ice cream cone.

As great as those things are, however, the main reason I love technology so much is that it has created angry mobs that now come in an online form. Exchanging pitchforks and torches for exclamation points and a ridiculous overuse of the ALL CAPS button, these new angry mobs are now called angry anonymous online posters.

Take, for instance, the Victoria Advocate online comment section (or as I like to call it, the Wild, Wild West 2.0). That place is thriving with anonymous posters who are just as likely to shoot you down with creatively spelled insults than as to look at you.

Of course, angry anonymous posters have been around since the beginning of time. Even back in the cavemen days, some dude named Og would come home from a long day of hunting weevils (which back then were much bigger) only to find that some angry anonymous poster wrote "ugh" right below his cave painting. And back in the first days of the computer when only binary code was being used, computer programmers would find messages such as "011011100110100101100011011001010010000001110000011100 100110111101100111011100100110000101101101001011000010 000001101010011000010110001101101011011000010111001101110011" from some angry anonymous hacker.

But in the digital age, it has become much more rampant since it's so easy to come up with a clever handle such as Angry_Lonely_Man43, log onto a newspaper website and spend the next 11 hours posting such whimsical gems as "all Albanians smell bad" and "who madd you the speling pollice?"

Now don't get me wrong. I am all for an online comment section. I think it's important for a newspaper to have instant feedback, good and bad, on articles and to have an open dialogue about the news and content of the paper. Even the negative comments I personally get online don't bother me since I realize it's part of my job to deal with and respond to criticism.

The part that bothers me is how all too often, since people can post anonymously, online discussions quickly dissolve into a barroom brawl.

While we have several great regular posters on our website who write interesting blogs and get good discussions going online, there also seems to be a swiftly increasing number of people who can't seem to handle the power anonymity gives them. On any given day, on almost any given article, something always seems to spark a firestorm and suddenly we have posters personally attacking one another, making veiled threats, making unsubstantiated claims and accusing everyone involved of being a Nazi (or worse yet, of being a Justin Bieber fan). It's become more like a playground for bullies, where wedgies are dolled out via text every few posts or so, than a place to have a discussion.

The worst part of all this is that the toxic online atmosphere may actually be preventing many other people who would like to contribute to these online discussions from logging on, thus preventing a wider array of opinions and points of view. In a place where World War III can break out over incorrect grammar, why would you want to put yourself in the line of fire if you don't have to?

Which brings me to my point (and only 18.5 inches in!). Would these same posters say those same things if they couldn't hide behind a screen name? Would they still make insensitive comments about someone's death if they had to put their real name behind it? And would they be more likely to abide by our online policy if their reputation was on the line with everything they posted?

It's a debate newspapers are having all over the country. There's no right or wrong answer. But in the end, I think the vast majority of us, both readers and staff members, would just like our online section to be more like a community and less like an episode of Jerry Springer.

Aprill Brandon is a reporter for the Advocate. To save time for our online posters, this column is not newsworthy, not well-written, is complete fluff, totally unfunny and just Aprill talking about herself again, while whining about mean posters (did I get them all?).



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