Why don’t graffiti “artists” sign their real names to their work?
Why don’t comedy-club hecklers actually step out from the dark cover of the audience and make themselves a little vulnerable onstage during open-mic night?
And why are the nastiest Internet comments so often posted anonymously?
I started thinking about this when one of FedSmith’s editors, Ian Smith, sent me this interesting article about author Anne Rice. Seems Anne doesn’t like anonymous book reviews posted on Amazon, and she wants to pressure the bookseller to stop allowing them.
I totally disagree.
Writing and sharing your thoughts in a public forum is a privilege. Some people will disagree with what you write. And a subset of that group will actually take their disagreements public as well. Deal with it.
Yes, I have to sign my full name to anything I write here at FedSmith. And yes, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page, sign in as CoolDude716, and write that this is the dumbest article you’ve ever read… or that I’m an idiot… or that you hate me. And yes, that comment will ride along with this article forever. So what?
Incredibly, such a commenter is now called a “troll” in Internet-speak. (See also Comments, Trolls and Communicating in the Internet Age). What petty insecurity that term reveals. It means that authors, journalists, columnists and others who traffic in ideas now expect the right to have one-way communication with large audiences. Because if you demand that anyone who responds to your content publicly sign the response with their full name, you are severely limiting those responses.
Posting a nasty personal comment or an insulting book review online — while keeping yourself protected by anonymity — is morally questionable. But wait a minute. Don’t we want to allow more people to contribute to the conversation, if it’s a conversation worth having? Not everyone with something to contribute wants his or her name associated publicly with that contribution — and retrievable online forever with a simple Google search. Disallowing anonymous comments would limit debate on social, cultural, political and all other societal issues. And it would keep a shy Anne Rice reader with an interesting insight about one of her books from being able to share her thoughts with fellow readers.
I’ve always disliked the term marketplace of ideas, because the public square (which is how we can think of the Internet in the digital era) is really more like a battlefield of ideas. We argue. We yell. We call each other names.
May the best idea win!
But that’s just one opinion. What’s yours? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. You don’t even have to use your real name!
(Oh, and by the way, regarding my first question: Graffiti artists don’t sign their real names to the buildings or subways or buses they deface because they’re vandals and $%&*s — signed CoolDude716.)