Free-For-All Can Have a High Cost

"From the start, Internet users have taken for granted that the territory was both a free-for-all and a digital disguise...," began the article in the New York Times to announce that "New Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments."


Since I started blogging, social networking and emailing, I have corresponded with, literally, thousands of anonymous people. I was brought up, thanks to Emily Post and Miss Manners, to communicate with people with names. Baby Boomer etiquette was to address people by name, refer to their interests, relatives, geographical location, interests or something personal. You know, "Thanks for your note. Hope things are well with you in Peoria, even though you didn't like what I said/wrote/wore/my husband earned for the TV series you didn't like."

That can't be done with people who comment anonymously on what I said/wrote/wore/earned, or what the millions of other people who are on the receiving end of anonymous comments said/wrote/wore/earned. More importantly, it can't be done with intentionally untrue and misleading comments by anonymous posters who choose to attack and hide.

So, when I read the Times and other stories about everyone from HuffPost to the Washington Post re-thinking the policies of readers posting anonymous comments on news sites, I was glad they were looking at what has become the norm.

Please, anonymous posters, know that I am not against free speech. If you don't like how I look, or you think I'm not smart or I shouldn't have a gift-wrapping room, it's all right because I have thick skin. I'm a big girl.

But, when you intentionally and dishonestly shape actual news and disparage people because of your a clear agenda and hide behind some silly made-up name, it's different. You can change the subject or create a new one under the guise of anonymity, and there are no consequences for not telling the truth.

The Times story quotes Leonard Pitts, Jr., of the Miami Herald who wrote that "anonymity has made comment streams 'havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness....'" I'd like to add bullying to the list. A lot of the anonymous meanies do sound like school bullies; but at least we knew who the bullies were.

It's not an easy issue, and there are no clear cut answers or generalities. I'd like to hear Emily Post's view, but I fear she'd even be befuddled by the options technology presents.

I'm just glad there's discussion going on. I will now sit up straight in my computer chair and prepare myself for anonymous comments.