Common Sense

Today, Tara linked to the comments on Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch blog that featured a video of a female CEO demonstrating how her new product works.  Tara wrote:  “Check out the awful comments on this post.” 

I did.

Here is the math on this admittedly small and unscientific sample: Out of 45 comments, 13 referenced the CEO’s femininity, her looks, or her sexual appeal.

11 of those are anonymous. 

Let me point that out again, in reverse. 11 out of 13 comments that reference the CEO’s sexuality are anonymous.

There has been a lot of sturm und drang in the last two days about the problem of hateful, sexist, mysoginistic and downright threatening language on the internet. 

I have thought of one simple action that we can all take to help mitigate this problem.

Do not allow anonymous comments on your blog.

To me, the overall culture of aggression on the internet is fed by the
anonymity afforded so many of its participants. When speech is
disconnected from identity, it is also disconnected from consequences.
People who hide behind anonymity feel free to say things
they would never say if they thought their words could be linked with
their true identity.

It is true that there will always be people who find ways to hide their
identity. But if we didn’t hand the cloak of anonymity out so freely,
fewer people would feel comfortable spewing vitriol. The chorus would
be muted and the true and terrifying sound of hate would be at once
more marginalized and more obvious.

And before anyone goes all Thomas-Paine-published-Common-Sense-anonymously on me, may I point out that you don’t need protection from the dominant culture when you are a mouthpiece for it?

I’m looking for someone who will design a small banner for my blog that indicates that anonymous comments are not allowed.  I am happy to pay for such a design and would offer it for free to anyone who wanted to use it on his or her blog.  If you know any designers who might be interested, please send them my way. 

My initial thought was to use the phrase from the WELL: "You Own Your Own Words" but on second thought, maybe it should be "You Are Your Own Words."

Ideas, thoughts, non-anonymous comments?

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9 thoughts on “Common Sense

  1. Why can’t everyone just behave?? (sigh)
    As long as there have been men and women, I’m sure there have been references regarding a woman’s femininity, looks, or sexual appeal. Somewhere along the line, this type of behavior must have brought snickers or back-slapping amongst the group.
    While I would be thrilled if we could totally eliminate this type of behavior forever, I agree that our best hope is to control how it affects us.
    Congrats on your banner idea. I’m with you.

  2. De-lurking again to say that I do think your banner idea is a good one. I haven’t had problems with anonymous comments, but I can see that they would be a problem–you’re right, the internet does afford a scary amount of anonymity. People hide behind that protection and it allows them to say things they wouldn’t say if they had a tangible identity behind their words.

  3. I was just reading something on this topic–it was probably in Discover, which I was reading in backissues at my in-laws over the weekend. The article reflected on the way fear of Big Brother on the part of its counterculture founders led to the internet being designed with a high degree of anonymity built in. The premise of the article was that the war on drugs had made some particular designers (who were founders of the Electronic Freedom Forum and people the writer knew) value protection from government intervention more highly than they might have otherwise. I wish I remembered the author or was certain about the publication–didn’t expect to be writing about it.
    As I read the article, it seemed to me that there were a lot of other reasons to fear government poking around in people’s correspondence, and if the tradeoff is ultimately privacy for civility, and I can live with that.

  4. Sheila, I’d love to see that article so if the title/publication surfaces in your mind, please let me know.
    For me, it is more akin to what KathyR said, “It’s my house.” I see this blog as a version of my house and I don’t let people I don’t know in my house or people wearing masks that obscure their identity. Also, I think on the internet now, as opposed to in the early days, the drive to make money has really taken over. Thus, people who depend on site traffic numbers for their advertising dollars are more apt to allow anonymous commenting because it lowers the barrier to entry for commenters, permits them to say things they would otherwise not say and thus increases traffic and dollars for the blog/site owner.
    Thanks for sharing an opposing view.

  5. I do agree with Sheila that the level of anonomity afforded by the Internet is important, especially with the erosion of freedom and the lack of information granted to the the public that we are currently experiencing.
    However, anonymous comments are forbidden on my blog. Making a comment to me, good or bad, does nothing for the greater good. If you can’t own your opinions, perhaps they are better left unsaid/typed. I don’t care to be heckled in my own space and I certainly have the right to limit that sort of negative energy.

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