Online Anonymity

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Why is it that letters to papers may be strong, may be wrong, but are rarely offensive, while comments on websites -- even about the same subject -- swiftly sink into bigotry and hate? Are newspaper readers so different from readers online?


So why the disparity? When you write to a paper, you have to sign your name. When you write to a website, you don't. And no-name writers race to the dark side. This is the tyranny of anonymity.

Here's a response to a YouTube video about a famous chef: "What happened to this guy? Does he have cancer? Hope he dies from it."

"Hope he dies from it?" Would this have been the response if Anonymous had to sign his real name? Here's "jorrey" discussing the president on USA Today's website: "Barry is a Marxist fraud."  Who's "jorrey?" "This person has not created their profile yet."


And here's an expurgated comment to a video about a peaceful Caribbean protest: "I'm tracking your black asses down and capping you one by one." That's worse. It's the cyber Klan, terrorizing from behind a made-up name rather than a holey sheet.

Bottom line: Anonymity is killing web discourse. Decent people don't engage, lest they be flamed and threatened by cyber bullies. But it need not be this way. Starting here and now, we can end the tyranny of anonymity. Three steps:

1. Lead by example -- always sign your name.

2. Never respond to anonymous comments except, "Sorry, but I don't respond to anonymous comments."

3. Require writers to use their names. Except rarely, you can't write an anonymous letter to papers. The same rule should apply to websites.

With a Perspective, I'm Jules Older.