Written by Shelley Plett Wednesday, 14 May 2008 09:55“It seems there is something about anonymity which brings out the worst in us. If you doubt that, come with me into the often-weird world of Internet chat rooms and message boards.”
The collective message of this graduation season will be something like “…and just remember that you can be anything you want to be.” And it’s not just true for the graduates. You too can be anything, or anyone, you want to be…on the Internet.
Total (unless the right software is installed) anonymity can transform introverts into extroverts, minors into adults, dogs into pigs, males into females, or the average person into a complete jerk.
Cyber bullying, which in my opinion is much more brutal than the classic and apparently outdated lunchroom teasing, is a problem that I have no doubt would comply with the six degrees of separation theory.
We all know someone or know someone who knows someone who’s been bullied online—whether they’re in elementary, middle or high school. If only the kids who do it and the kids who have it done to them could catch a glimpse of themselves a few years down the road when none of it will matter anymore.
But in the moment it’s real, it’s painful and it’s wicked.
On the other end of the spectrum there are blogs. Endless pointless blogs filled with too much information. That world is an overwhelming one. I avoid them unless it’s a private blog I’ve been invited into or if it serves a specific purpose in my life.
There’s something about random unmanaged rambling that makes me crazy. (And for now, let’s disqualify newspaper columns from that category.)
But the worst I’ve read are the comment sections on just about any Web site with opinion or information areas, which basically covers every Web site out there.
As an example, I was skimming through the columnists on the Kansas City Star’s Web edition to see what the hot topics were this past week. There is one writer in particular who had several comments posted after most of her columns. And they were nasty. Many of them were personal attacks that had nothing to do with her writing.
If this woman doesn’t go home every night in tears, I’d be amazed. I’m not even much of a fan of her column—but I felt so bad for her I decided to run a Google search to see if she had some kind of supportive fan base to counteract the jabs.
The third listing in my search was a Kansas City blogger’s site that devoted an entire entry to that particular columnist’s earrings and other observations about her picture that I won’t even begin to type because trust me, they would be edited before I could get them typed.
This isn’t the exception. Irrational, outrageous comments are posted after nearly every story on any news Web site online. I checked out everything from IRS.gov to ivillage.com and found the same thing over and over again.
I’m in favor of free speech, but I’m also partial to self-control. It’s easy to throw some sharp-edged stones when you’re identified only as “mamma23” or “talkinitup08.”
(Note: Those usernames popped into my head and are completely random. If by some chance you own one of them, I’ll be over here growing a thicker skin while I wait for your comment posts at the end of this column.)
Obviously everyone who has an opinion isn’t comfortable expressing it openly. Anonymity takes the pressure off, which is why anonymous comment hotlines are so popular for newspapers and television stations.
The sticks and stones adage is much easier said than applied.
It really doesn’t matter if words are spoken (or written) from understanding or ignorance or if they’re thrown out there responsibly or irresponsibly.
They’re as potent either way.