Internet anonymity: good or bad?

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Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

The Internet is magical. It allows me to Skype with my family who are far away in both time and space (okay, three hours, but still). It allows me to find whatever information I need at the drop of a hat. It can get me food, clothing and a book about LBJ delivered to my doorstep. It has been the single most important creation in the past 50 years.

It is also, if you haven’t been on there lately, a mess of anonymous rage and dumb comments. A friend of mine recently pointed out a web site that I’m not going to name because I don’t want to drive traffic to it, but it’s a men’s rights web site that I hadn’t seen before. I had no idea how popular this idea of “men’s rights” is — the movement actually has quite a following. Yes, an idea as completely asinine as men’s rights can get thousands upon thousands of adherents all gathered in one place, thanks to the Internet.

Magical for its ability to bring people together; terrible for its ability to bring jackasses together.

There’s not much we can do about it though, right? A part of me wants all commenting on all web sites to be representative — in other words, no more anonymity for creeps sitting on their computers and saying, “That bitch is so hotttttt.”

Make’em come out into the light, or better yet, make all comments available to places of potential employment, schools, etc. That would certainly give people pause before they mindlessly say dumb things on YouTube videos.

Now, I’m not actually serious about this, but I really have that urge sometimes when I read vicious comments. Lots of female writers receive horrible comments when they write something provocative. Or when they just write anything at all — it’s really disgusting. Most of these people would NEVER say these things to her face-to-face! If they did, that woman, her friends and random bystanders would jump into action and shut down the dunce. It sometimes happens on the Internet, too, where people will come to someone else’s defense, but there’s no such thing as Internet shaming when there’s total anonymity and no real consequences.

And that’s the biggest issue with the Internet — it makes people cowards. Some people use the Internet’s anonymity for good, to be sure. You can argue about the intentions and morality of Anonymous (let’s argue about it!), but you certainly can’t call them cowards-via-anonymity. Most of the Internet fools making rude, crude or threatening comments, however, are just cowardly narcissists, trying to make their voices heard.

If they really want to make their voice heard when they’re calling Hillary Clinton, “a disgusting ugly lesbian” or Mitt Romney “a piece of shit Mormon,” they should put their name and reputation on it. They’ll feel real world consequences.

I truly do believe in Internet privacy and anonymity — it’s upsetting to me that Gmail reads my emails so that corporations can track what I write and target me accordingly, and government agencies spying on our search items is beyond troubling. But these cruel comments do sometimes rear their heads and try to convince me of the other side — that anonymity is the enemy. It’s not simple.

I guess those of us who have the decency not to do this kind of stuff can have one moral victory — history doesn’t remember small people making small comments.

These folks are already irrelevant.