Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Anonymity and Civility

COMMENTARY: I turn 60 today, which I understand gives me an unlimited license for crabbiness.  Here is my first commentary since getting licensed.  I do not speak officially for The Middletown Eye, or any of its contributors, but I know there is consensus about throwing bricks from behind a mask.

After a bit of pseudonymous reporting at the beginning of the Eye’s history, all reporters sign their own names.  Regular columnists like The Colonel are another story.  As long as their commentary does not veer into invective, their pseudonym is safe. 

But anyone who is doing factual “reporting,” must take credit for their report.

While the Eye does accept and publish anonymous commentary in response to posts, each of those comments is reviewed to make sure that the comment is not a simple insult, a slur or an ad hominem attack.

The Eye editorial staff has had vigorous debates about publishing those anonymous comments, but agreed that if the comments provide an important perspective or piece of information, they should be published.  If a baseless insult is sandwiched between facts, the comment is rejected.

I support the publication of such anonymous comments in the Eye, but I don’t much like them.

I believe that anonymous commenting is cowardly. 

Sure, there are circumstances when an anonymous commenter has important information, of the whistle-blower variety, that should be published.  In some circumstances, this whistleblowing could put them in a precarious position in their lives and workplaces.  In these cases, anonymity is justified.

Those kinds of anonymous comments are rare.

What has become commonplace is a mean-spirited, anonymous bullying where the commenters, safe behind their electronic mask, can spew the most vile, unsubstantiated opinion imaginable, and get away with it.  Or should I say, walk away from it, like a steaming pile of shame.

You will find that kind of comment on many daily newspaper sites and on blogs which exist exclusively to fuel anger and devisiveness.  These blogs, in their proud anonymity, actually detract from honest public debate.

Anonymous commentary absolves the commenter from the basic courtesies of the social contract.  Relieved of this burden, the anonymous commenter can vent his/her spleen and be satisfied that he/she will neither be recognized, nor challenged.

Anonymity allows commenters to say absolutely anything. about anyone, and then retreat under a rock while the pain and venom spreads.

Sounds like the approach of a viper, or nasty third grader, doesn’t it?

This kind of commentary does little toward spreading “truth,” and opening the door to forthright debate.  It creates anger, resentment and a childish vengeance which typically manifests in an endless thread of specious claims, one more vituperative and inaccurate than the next.

Anonymous comments are sometimes funny and pointed, but more often churlish and childish.  Why not take credit for your wit.

Anonymous commenting is a mudslide that threatens to smother civility.

Anonymous commenter, I’m all for a good argument.  I absolutely defend your guarantee of free speech.

But I deplore your lack of common decency.

The next time you decide to post a nasty comment online, stop and count to three. 

Ask yourself if you would make this comment to the actual target of your commentary, face to face. 

Ask yourself if you’d make this comment standing next to you wife, mother or son. 

Ask yourself if you’d make this comment while standing with work colleagues. 

Ask yourself if you’d make this comment if you knew you were going to confront the target of your comment at a meeting a few hours later.

If the answer to all these questions is yes, fire away.

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’re a coward.  Stop hiding. 

Own your opinions.  I guarantee it will make them more thoughtful, more cogent and considerably less repulsive.


Anonymous said...

So lost..

John P said...

I'd love to see facebook comments being used on here. It does a lot to keep people from being jerks: http://jensontaylor.blogspot.com/2012/03/integrate-facebook-comments-for-blogger.html

Actually, I'd like to see a lot of upgrades to the Eye's site. Shoot me an email if you'd like some help with that.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with anonymous civil posts even if they make people uncomfortable?

There's a double standard going on here - it's okay for contributors who write columns to be nameless but not for other bloggers?

Lisa DiPiro said...

Happy birthday Ed.

Anonymous said...

Why do you care Ed? You have had a successful blog here that has done well and has gotten you a lot of good publicity. I mean it helped spring board you into being elected on the board of ed. Not to bad Ed. So why worry about the small stuff.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you're a strange bird. Your idea of a satisfying birthday is to pen a thoughtful essay on civility.

Thank you for the present. Middletown needs more like you.

cybermom said...

Happy Birthday Ed. Thanks for all you have done and are doing for Middletown.
I like using a pseudonym. I think it's fun.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

My 60th birthday promise to myself.

I will not respond to anonymous comments.

Anonymous said...

Maybe more people would identify themselves if they weren't attacked by the blog or posters.

The Blue Cat said...

I have to agree completely with you Ed. Happy b-day BTW.

To be anonymous is also lazy. You don't have to work as hard to gather facts when you make a statement because you dont need to correct yourself when you're reviled to be incorrect. An anonymous commenter has no reputation to uphold and nobody to answer to.

When you are anonymous you cant produce a conversation that can be later built upon.

I always use my real name because I am proud of what I have to say. And I am also NOT afraid to be wrong. Please correct me if I have any facts that are not accurate. Trust me I will research my own claims as well as any counter-claims.

Glad to see you writing again Ed.


Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Thanks, Ed. You know how I feel about anonymous comments, especially those that attack the writers' character and motives.

Defenders of hostile anonymous postings: if you wouldn't say whatever you have to say to someone's face, don't say it here.

Anonymous said...

so your real name is blue cat?? btw this blog had anonymous writers with fake names for years, art too.
many people have anonymous blogs and do or do not take comments. even the newspapers screen them- who cares
this whole post is a cry for attention

Anthony R. Lancia, Jr. said...

EGO ( Extremely Gullible Objectives) hence the anonymous poster. Live life as yourself and you will receive the same in return. Don't sweat what others think or write just keep your EGO in check and the rest will all fall into its place.

Anthony R. Lancia, Jr.

Anonymous said...

Ed, 60 Minutes called. They want you to audition for Andy Rooney's old position.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...


Warning, anonymous friends.