Dear Anonymous Online Commenters,
Whenever I begin a relationship with someone, I like to make my true feelings known at the outset. So now, at what remains an early stage in my column-writing career, let me make myself clear: I don’t like you.
Allow me to clarify. I have no objection to what you write in your comments. In fact, I generally find your remarks insightful, funny and often equally as or more interesting than the columns you critique. You can be nasty, but that’s what columnists sign up for. My real problem is your asinine insistence on remaining anonymous.
Making a comment presumably indicates a desire to contribute substance to a conversation and be taken seriously. But your anonymity should make anyone hesitate to take you or your views seriously. For one thing, context matters. It’s silly to pretend that the meaning of your comment isn’t influenced by your identity and the experiences that you’ve had.
If I were to write a column berating the country of Sweden, for instance, it would be relevant to know that you are the president of a Scandinavian affinity club when reading your spirited opposition. And this doesn’t just apply to negative comments. I greatly appreciate positive feedback on my columns. But if gushing comments are written anonymously, they could just be from my grandmother signing on multiple times using different screen names.
By signing your name—bonus points to people who also disclose any potential conflicts of interest—you would be displaying a willingness to allow others the opportunity to discover any potential biases you may have. They could then judge your remarks in that context.
And trust me, this isn’t an innocent-until-proven-guilty sort of thing: If you don’t reveal your biases, we all assume you have them anyway.
But there are broader issues at work. Your comments would be even more insightful if your name was associated with them.
Whenever most people make a comment, write a column or do anything else that involves voluntarily sharing an opinion, there’s a natural cost-benefit analysis that takes place.
There are usually serious risks to consider—for instance, the possibility that one will forever be associated with a view that strikes the rest of the world as stupid, obnoxious or both. This has a tendency to prevent poorly thought-out remarks.
The anonymous comment phenomenon turns this process on its head. Sure, anonymous commenters can’t benefit from the respect garnered by a strong opinion. But they still enjoy the opportunity to share their view with the world without worrying about blowback. This creates opinion inflation—in other words, many, many comments that involve less than 10 seconds of thought.
Some of you will surely argue that more opinions are always better. Holders of this view should feel free to take a virtual stroll over to CollegeACB’s website, the anonymous online confession board.
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One could argue that the mindless maliciousness of the “confessions” on this site are the result of other societal ills. But try and count how many comments would still be there if their authors had been required to sign their names.
People are more cruel, and more importantly, more stupid in their nameless forms. Thoughtless remarks—unsurprisingly—occur when people have no incentive to think before speaking.
To be sure, there are situations in which remaining anonymous is completely understandable—for instance, if you live in North Korea. But when you are a willing participant in a progressive academic community, commenting from behind a virtual veil is not reasonable. It is just cowardly.
To put this on a larger scale, it’s no coincidence that big ideas usually don’t get spread by anonymous people. Tahrir and Tiananmen Squares weren’t filled with screen names—they were filled with people willing to put their reputations and even their lives at risk to stand by their ideas.
Bring this to Duke. I’m glad you agree with me that graduation speeches should be banned or that unpaid internships shouldn’t be, but how are you helping me achieve a goal if you aren’t even willing to publicly state your support?
To the more negative folks, what are you afraid of? I’m a lanky 5-foot-8-inch Jewish kid; I’m not going to hurt you. Not to mention that I’m going to be halfway around the world for the next few months—there’s never been a better time to own up to your hatred of me and all I stand for.
You’re reaching the end of this column, and knowing your type, you’ve already got something to say. So write a comment. Call me any name you like—trust me, as the youngest of three sons, I’ve heard it all before. Tear me to pieces. Tell me my logic is idiotic and my prose boring.
And then sign your name at the bottom.
Jeremy Ruch is a Trinity junior.