Our college friend and fellow Lantern alum Jim McKeever writes for an interesting and lively blog called Irish Investigations. Yesterday he wrote a post about anonymous internet comments that is worth considering.
The context of Jim’s piece is straightforward. Among his other positive qualities, Jim is a runner and an active participant in charitable causes. In his community there is an Independence Day 10-mile run. Two 12-year-old twin boys with muscular dystrophy wanted to participate in the race by being pushed in adapted “running strollers” by willing runners. Amazingly, the race organizers initially denied the boys permission to participate, but news coverage and a social media firestorm caused them to reconsider. The event occurred, the boys participated, and they were cheered along the race route.
But the on-line news stories about the incident elicited some of the angry, ignorant comments that any regular reader of on-line content has seen all too often, all made by people using pseudonyms. It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t feel good about letting disabled boys participate in a community event, but the anonymous comments showed that, pathetically, some sad, mean-spirited people did. Jim’s piece reacts to their comments, but also raises the larger issue of whether websites should permit anonymous postings in the first place. He thinks that people who post anonymous comments are cowards and websites shouldn’t allow them to spew their venom, secure behind the protective veil of their fake on-line names.
I get Jim’s point, but I have a different take on the issue. I think there is value in allowing pseudonymous comments precisely because it allows people to expose their innermost thoughts. Usually those thoughts aren’t offensive, and the posters just want to avoid any concern that they might get blowback or provoke a nut to begin stalking them — after all, the internet can be a scary place. But even if the thoughts are angry or stupid, like the comments Jim describes, I think it’s worth seeing them precisely because it allows them to be exposed as ignorant and idiotic. Although Jim didn’t mention this in his piece, I hope that good people like Jim responded to every one of those ignorant posts and, maybe, helped to convince the anonymous posters that their views are terribly out of line.
Technology allows so many people to live their lives in a cocoon, without much meaningful interaction with the world. The haters at their computer keyboards may believe that their hateful views are widely shared. When they surface from their dens to make ignorant anonymous posts, we all have the opportunity to disabuse them of that notion.