The perils of online anonymity

I strongly dislike online anonymity. Public employees used it during Stockton’s budget cuts to flame the reformers and denigrate necessary reforms, hiding their vested interests.

The insulting rhetoric people feel liberated to use when they hide who they are thwarts a key purpose of journalism, which is to stimulate public debate. As soon as the debate ceases to be civil, studies show, everybody’s positions harden. Nobody learns anything. 

Anonymous commenters often assert something is fact when it is false. They often espouse ideas so insupportable they would be torn to shreds in an intellectually rigorous forum. They often blacken people’s reputations with falsehoods while hiding behind anonymity like a snotty little boy hiding behind his mother’s skirt.

They’re fish in a barrel — only they enjoy immunity from being shot. 

Don’t take this personally. If you post respectable comments, well and good. It is not important that we agree. It is important that we can exchange views and ideas. I read your comments. I learn from some — for which I am grateful — while some leave me shaking my head at the impassioned idiocy of the poster.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on online anonymity.

“This has serious consequences in the real world. The Irish parliament is investigating the role of social media in a public debate following the suicide of Irish politician Shane McEntee after a campaign of abuse, some of it on social media. Furthermore, a recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that vituperative comments on science articles affected how people perceived the validity of the science. The less civil the accompanying comments, the more risk readers attributed to the research, a finding that has implications for the public understanding of science.”

I believe the level of public discourse would be higher if people used their names. Public discourse is how we shop in the marketplace of ideas. Anonymity creates shelves filled with bile and baloney.

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  • Blog Author

    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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