Always been a great fan of Jaron Lanier, the internet guru and evangelist, and general web supremo. So we were interested to read the following about anonymity on blog forums, in a discussion with Tim O’Reilley, he of the Blogger’s Code of Conduct Fame.
“People who can spontaneously invent a pseudonym in order to post a comment on a blog or on YouTube are often remarkably mean. Buyers and sellers on eBay are usually civil, despite occasional annoyances like fraud. Based on those data you could propose that transient anonymity coupled with a lack of consequences is what brings out online idiocy. With more data, the hypothesis can be refined. Participants in Second Life (a virtual online world) are not as mean to each other as people posting comments to Slashdot (a popular technology news site) or engaging in edit wars on Wikipedia, even though all use persistent pseudonyms. I think the difference is that on Second Life the pseudonymous personality itself is highly valuable and requires a lot of work to create. So a better portrait of the culprit is effortless, consequence-free, transient anonymity in the service of a goal, like promoting a point of view, that stands entirely apart from one’s identity or personality. Call it drive-by anonymity.”
“Anonymity certainly has a place, but that place needs to be designed carefully. Voting and peer review are pre-Internet examples of beneficial anonymity. Sometimes it is desirable for people to be free of fear of reprisal or stigma in order to invoke honest opinions. But, as I have argued (in my November 2006 column), anonymous groups of people should be given only specific questions to answer, questions no more complicated than voting yes or no or setting a price for a product. To have a substantial exchange, you need to be fully present. That is why facing one’s accuser is a fundamental right of the accused.”
Interesting! So we are learning. We also learn that the best way to counter ad-hominem (attacks to one’s personality) is to ignore the attack. Considering we had our share of abusive comments on this and several other blogging and literary forums, we are really wondering when the “Blogger’s Code of Conduct” will become final, so we can whack our online critics’ backs with it.
Anthonybhai rarely, if ever, uses the net. When we approach him for a quote his response is, why do it anonymously when you can do it in person, drag him by the collar, give him two dishum, dishum, to his stomach and then break his leg. But then, if the Internet has to grow as a medium (which we strongly believe it can) we need to keep it clean of the detritus that clutters our “in person” lives.