Anonymity does funny things to people.
This is the blessing and the curse of the internet, I suppose. There is a lot of good that has been done by allowing people to explore areas of themselves, with no identifying information or bread crumbs following them. I think of online support groups for individuals with eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, suffering from trauma. I think of gay teens in small towns trying to figure out their sexuality while keeping it undercover.
And then I read the comments on YouTube videos, news sites, Craigslist-- and I swear, I almost lose faith in humanity.
Give someone a screen name and no link to their actual identity, and the stuff they spew out is foul. Misogynistic, racist, homophobic, insulting, and just plain cruel. It is almost as though they are bursting at the seams with this hatred, after having to conceal it in their day-to-day life, such that they are willing to fling it at the first target as soon as they've put their masks on. It is as though the id runs rampant the second they are hidden from view.
The reality is, of course, that the average person doesn't even bother creating this moniker. They check out the video clip or skim through the article without the need to comment. It is all too easy to ignore the thought provoking comments, or even just the plain neutral ones, when there are bolded racial slurs surrounding them.
My main research interest is ethnic discrimination, and you have no idea how many cliched comments I receive about how racism is no longer a problem. While racism is certainly generally regarded as socially unacceptable, these leakages of such hatred online show that these sentiments are still residing in people. Perhaps they know better than to say such things out loud in public locations, but one can hardly argue that having these attitudes simmering below the surface doesn't affect how they interact with minority group members.
(FYI-- Research does say that even the most implicit forms of discrimination, much more implicit than these anonymous comments, do have negative impacts on interpersonal interactions).
In some ways, I am surprised how far these fierce comments extend. This post was brought about by my accidental scrolling through reader's opinions on a local news site's article, in which they berated a woman who had nearly died due to the mislabeling of a Starbucks product (it said there were no nuts in the product when there in fact were)-- the insults were flying about the woman's morality and status as a single mother, as though her anaphylactic shock was a motivated move by a shameless woman.
Then, in other ways, I am surprised where they don't extend to. While I know that a number of my fellow bloggers have received rude and aggressive comments, in my two years of writing, I have never received a comment that I found personally insulting (knock on wood...). Sure, there have been a few that disagreed with my take on things, and one or two that may have stung a little, but nothing ever directly meant to jab at my feelings. In some ways, I think that speaks to bloggers as a whole, that we take our online presence relatively seriously, and try to be genuine in our expressions of it.
Fitting with this, I think of the fact that despite my own cloak of anonymity, it has never occurred to me to abuse it. Sure, now my life is more intertwined with those of you with whom I have started real personal relationships with, but at the beginning, I could have very well been more nefarious. It surprises me sometimes that it has never occurred to me to lie on this blog-- even when to do so would have made for more exciting posts, or a more flattering depiction of me. For some reason, though, presenting myself as genuinely as I can is important. That is why I still appreciate the fact that upon meeting me, I have been told that I match my words well-- despite the fact that I hide these words from those in my day-to-day life. I guess that, despite the opportunity to communicate in a more consequence-free manner (and you know very well that we have all read a post or two that we just want to call people out on), I still find it important to hold the online me to the same ethical standards as the real me. Or maybe it is just that I don't have nearly as much unbridled hatred below the surface...
Friday, January 30, 2009
Anonymity does funny things to people.