Thursday, April 1, 2010

You are Not a Gadget - Jaron Lanier

Anonoymous Posting



One of Lanier's criticism's about the web is that it encourages irresponsible behavior. It is possible to post your comments anonymously and not have to take any responsibility for them. He views this anonymity as creating a hive mind, where people gang up on posters or even individuals who don't post whose ideas they don't agree with until they drive the poster out of the forum or make the individuals life miserable. He gives the example of a Korean TV star who committed suicide after being trashed online. He also mentions a case in the US where a teenage girl committed suicide after she was cruelly dumped by what she thought was an online boyfriend but was in actuality the mother an a teen enemy. Oddly enough Lanier comments that the mother was hounded online but does not comment on the mother's actions, which caused the initial tragedy.



Lanier advocates thinking before you post on a blog, and signing your name to the post in order to take responsibility for your actions. I have mixed feelings about this idea. I am a relatively outspoken person in "real life" and take responsibility for my actions and speech. However, I read librarian blogs, newspaper blogs, and book discussion blogs where people post anonymously. I can tell that for many of my fellow librarians, their anonymous posting is a way of venting to a sympathetic audience about their job. It is in the online equivalent of grumbling in a bar with colleagues but safer since the physical colleague may tip off your bosses about your conversation.

My questions are:

Does anonymity encourage hostile posts and trollish behavior?

Do people think that online posting is a relatively harmless way of getting out their anger and hostility without destroying their possible relationship with their target?

Do they deliberately post to destroy the reputations and possibly the lives of others?

Do these people behave in this hostile and destructive fashion in face-to-face, non-internet life?

Do you prefer to post anonymously, sign your name, or do a mixture of both. If so, why?

13 comments:

Oscar W. said...

I do think that people use the cloak of anonymity to spew venom online. Nonetheless, I don't think people should be required to always post their names to something. There may be cases where they are responding rationally and appropriately, but don't want to suffer retribution.

Anonymous said...

Yes, one only has to look to the comments left on NY Post or NY Times to see how vicious the posts can be. Of course I have to admit that I am addicted to reading them for this reason. It is like rubbernecking at a traffic accident. It's ugly but you are still curious to see how ugly. Notice that I am posting this anonymously :)

Kevin Anderson said...

I was recently talking to an online editor of our local news blog on this very subject. Many of us were debating local politics (on the news blog) online and the comments turned horribly rude, off topic and laced with fallacies (mostly the type were people attacked personalities instead of addressing the issues) and all of the derailing comments were posted anonymously. People commenting even attacked others for posting anonymously – reminding me of kids on a playground calling each other out.

I asked the editor why he allowed anonymous comments, as it seems to take the conversation in irrelevant directions, and his answer was curious, but not terribly surprising. He said he had tried it both ways – when anonymous comments were not allowed there was very little commenting, only getting a few (less than 10) comments. When posting anonymously was allowed the number of comments soared into the triple digits. So for the editor the choice was easy. But I wonder if having to stand by your opinion makes us all more agreeable or just less likely to join the discussion.

Oscar W. said...

A random crass observation about a political figure or celebrity does not bother me, as public figures ought to have thick skins. Orchestrated attacks to smear the reputations of private citizens, especially vulnerable youths, are wrong. Even if they are not legally culpable, those that host social networks ought to act to remove such materials and, if necessary, prevent users from repeating such offenses.

Tracey said...

I agree with Kevin Anderson in that I think that people would be less likely to post on blogs and discussion sites if they have to sign in as themselves. Nevertheless, I am struck by how reasonable commenters are in the United Kingdom, for example, as opposed to the United States. I read the Guardian UK online almost daily. The anonymous commenters are generally more literate and less cruel and/or hostile than commenters that I've seen in US blogs and/or online papers. Even when the commenters disagree with other commenters, they are much more reasoned and kinder than many of the US commenters that I've read. I find myself wondering why this is so. Does US society somehow encourage hostile anonymous posting?

Oscar W. said...

I'd expect the level of commentary to reflect general cultural values, and I supposed better online behavior in the UK is typical of what's expected there. Regarding Kevin Anderson's post - I think the site hosts that choose to allow anonymous posting could and should exercise a right to remove posts that are just vicious attacks.

Laura said...

Leaving aside the question of hostile posts, I can see very clearly why people want to post anonymously. Posting comments on a blog, etc., is actually a pretty risky thing to do. You spend all of 2 minutes composing your thoughts, and then they are archived on the internet for all of eternity, for everyone in the world to see.

Plus, texts like email and comments are notoriously hard to interpret. It's difficult enough to get tone from a hastily written note from someone you know well, but a stranger? It actually seems rather imprudent to post in your own name, though I am half doing it.

Oscar W. said...

This NY Times blog post (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/keeping-a-closer-eye-on-workers-social-networking/) reports that software services to help employers monitor the behavior of their employees on social networks are now available and likely to become more widely used. We must all be mindful that bad behavior online will be as easily noticed by your bosses as if one behaved like a drunken frat boy at a company Christmas party.

Anonymous said...

Being anonymous when uttering/writing something unpopular/unpalatable can cause narcissistic injury to those in power. It is not just a rational response to the dark side of human nature (nature of humans in power) but also rooted in survival instinct. That is why elites throughout history have been able to recruit ordinary citizens to become instuments of elite politics. Injustice can never endure for long without complicity (and ignorance) of ordinary individuals. Test of democracy is in the degree of criticism it allows in the marketplace of ideas.

Oscar W. said...

I'm fine with criticism of the power elite that doesn't rest on slurs or threats of violence. Political cartoons have historically been effective ways to tweak the powerful. I don't think those should be harnessed anonymously to harass without power - it's the 21st century equivalent of a stoning.

Tracey said...

The problem is that even a relatively innocuous comment could be used against you by an employer, or potential employer, who does not like your political views, hobbies, etc. Once you post something with your name attached to it online, you will never be able to be rid of it. The web never conceals youthful indiscretions.

Oscar W. said...

I agree that comments on politics or other potentially sensitive topics aren't a good idea to publish publicly on the Web under your own name. If you want to make a statement, think it through carefully. Maybe it's best to sleep on it and reread it before posting it to make sure you aren't saying anything inflammatory.

Oscar W. said...

There's an article in today's New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/technology/12comments.html?ref=todayspaper that discusses how news services are considering restrictions on anonymity. Even if they set up the site not to post a name, they still want the writer to provide identification that the site will retain for possible identification if the comment proves to be objectionable. I don't use website comments as a forum for ranting or insulting people, so I think I could live with it. I think I could live with mandatory forms of identification in that situation, but still think that truly anonymous comments should be allowed in cases where people are offering legitimate opinions.