The problem with web anonymity

The web brings out the worst in people.

I mostly have stopped reading comments to this blog because what passes for "discussion" in the comments section tends to be inane, rude, and/or vapid, and often all three at the same time. "On the Internet, no one knows that you're a dog," goes the saying. Or that you're a jerk.

Now, most people are not jerks. They just become losers when cloaked in anonymity. They say things they'd never say if confronted with the people they flame on discussion boards, in comments sections, etc. They're probably nice people "in real life." It's just on the web that they let it all hang out, to the detriment of the web and intelligent discussion.

Take the comments to one of my recent posts . The first is led off by "h3h" who apparently has no sense of humor (completely missing my point in the post), but can't leave it at that, then going on to lob ad hominems into his "argument."

"H3h" turns out to be Brad Fults. Judging from his web presence, like his Twitter feed, he's probably an OK guy. He happens to be wrong in the way he chose to comment on this blog, but he's probably a well-intentioned person, normally. [UPDATE: Brad commented below, and I also talked with a friend of his. Turns out he's a really good person. I caught him on a bad day, apparently.]

The problem is the snowball effect. His negative comment leads to a completely worse-than-useless comment by "mvpcarl," who ironically calls out a fellow Buffalo-ite for a negative restaurant review:

Brighten up simcoe, every post you have ever made on [Buffalo Rising] is extremely negative....If you need some help getting a hold of your negativity, I'm sure there's lots of people who would love to write you a script for some sertraline or fluoxetine.

So, perhaps MVPCarl has his moments when he's a pleasant person, too (apparently even religious based on some of his posts and videos, though I doubt his religion condones anonymous attacks). But not here, for some reason. Not under the cloak of (relative) anonymity.

As The Guardian recently wrote,

It's about culturally privileged people licensing themselves to play with truth, to be nastier than they could or would be under their own name, and to write things that they know in their heart of hearts they shouldn't.

As for "privileged" part, I don't know. But I do suspect that most anonymous (or semi-anonymous) commentators would never say the things they say on this and other blogs if they were talking to the author in person. The lack of civility is disturbing.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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