Saturday, February 5, 2011

Behind the mask

Steve Wheeler has written an excellent article on the problem of anonymity on the web: Dear elearning101 ... Everyone who blogs welcomes comments, as long as they are constructive and respectful. The vast majority of comments are just that even though they disagree with the bloggers point of view. A healthy discussion is what blogging is all about. However there are a number of people who write hurtful and unnecessarily rude comments, always behind the mask of anonymity that is so convenient on the net. Steve received a scathing anonymous comment and decided to challenge it.

"... I want to point out that posting anonymous rude comments on someone else's site is unacceptable. For me, it's a form of cyber bullying. I won't stand for it, and neither should you. I'm writing this blogpost because I want to bring such behaviour out into the open. In so doing I hope the community of practice I value, the readers of this blog, and those who are as passionate as me about learning and technology can read, be aware, assess and otherwise discuss the implications of it."

In some situations it is very important to be able to make anonymous comments; in politically sensitive situations or when the writer fears reprisals from an employer, the police or criminal groups. However in professional discussions I simply don't understand why people canot reveal their identity. Abusive, snide and rude comments are almost always made by anonymous users with cartoon identities. I tend not to follow such people on Twitter or anywhere else because I want to know who I'm talking to. Imagine going to a conference where some of the delegates walked around with masks on. Would you talk to them, trust them? I doubt it.

Most bloggers moderate comments first and the most abusive ones usually get filtered out. But that doesn't mean they aren't hurtful. Anonymous know-it-alls can destroy a discussion forum unless someone steps in to ban them. I've left several forums for this reason. An honest question is met by a torrent of abuse and this destroys the credibility of the whole forum. As ever it's a minority group but a very vocal one. If only they could channel their energies into something more constructive.

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