Thursday, May 06, 2010

Come here and say that: do the anonymous deserve a response?

On the day we exercise our right to do the only thing that we really *need* to do anonymously, which is vote, I'm been thinking about how people on the web prefer to remain nameless when they're voicing the sentiments that are clearly closest to their hearts. This is rum if you think about it.

Many of the people who post comments in response to my humble mutterings in this place do so under assumed names. This doesn't bother me much, particularly since they're generally responding in the spirit of the blog. If I could visualise this spirit it would be a community of seals keeping a bright red beach ball in the air. But every now and then the door is opened to admit a gust of arctic air and a person with a grievance, not so much against the post or the poster as against someone or something that this post puts into their mind. And then you have to decide, do I respond openly to somebody who isn't being similarly open?

In the new issue of The Word there's an interview with Rob Manuel of the nerd community B3TAin which he mentions the fact that he is more inclined to let correspondents have their own way than engage in fruitless argument. He likens this process to dealing with his four-year-old in that the diplomatic thing to do is let them have their hollow victory. That's one way of dealing with it. Mark "Mr Geniality" Ellen always writes back to even the most splenetic emails and generally finds that people are instantly mollified by having any kind of response. A subscriber to a magazine is, however, in a privileged position. They've paid their money and are entitled to demand some satisfaction.

It's not the same "out there". When I read many of the "comments" on the web their authors seem to be reaching for a tone of indignation and spite that no actual human being in real life would ever allow themselves to use. Have you ever *read* the comments to even the most anodyne blogs on The Guardian? Aren't these people supposed to be the peacemakers? To judge by the tenor of their comments many of them seem to be sitting atop a volcano of undischarged emotional lava. Maybe they're less interested in getting an answer than just letting it all out. Maybe the act of saying something is more important than its likely effect on anyone else.

Maybe it's all a necessary counterweight to the increasing conformity of the Gap generation. When I go into the average working environment nowadays, particularly the ostensibly "creative" ones, the atmosphere is one of quiet professionalism and a certain conformity. There's no noise, no banter, no larger than life. I often wonder if a couple of feet below the brows furrowed with pleasant concentration their tappety-tappety fingers are sending forth monsters.


  1. There's lots of reasons why people post comments anonymously.

    They might want to give an opinion that might hamper them in their professional or personal lives.

    They might be posting when they shouldn't be and don't want to get in trouble.

    They might simply not want to be so instantly Googleable and have their innocuous viewpoints be the first thing people see and use to form opinions of them.

    Or they might use 4Chan, in which case it's very, very wise.

  2. I have the avoid the Guardian blogs, because the level of vitriol is very upsetting (especially from people who seem to think the Guardian is somehow politically aligned with the Morning Star).

    Interestingly, when the Observer first started a blog, hosted by Rafael Behr, it was immediately a nicer place to be, because the tone of commenting was set early on by just two or three people who used a tone of gentle humour rather than of vitriol.

    I have to maintain some sense of online anonymity because I'm a secondary school teacher, and at any moment a moral panic about teachers on the internets might explode on the pages of the Daily Mail. My county council employers have even gone as far as advising teachers not to use Facebook. At all. I run a personal blog and a teaching blog, and try not to let them cross over too much.

    As for commenting, I'm of the "If you can't say anything nice..." school of thought, so I just don't. And if anyone comments abusively on my blogs, their comments are deleted. A blog is my home on the internet, and you don't come into my home and say nasty stuff.

  3. That should read, "I have TO avoid..."

  4. What difference does it make, whether you post anonymously (i.e.use an assumed name),or not.
    My nom de plume could just as easily be a made-up name, or Anon.
    I have my own reasons for not posting under my real name, none of which are sinister - just about privacy.

  5. The magazine office I work in is fairly quiet and professional too but being the "creative" gives me license to be the one who shouts and says "Fuck" a lot.

  6. I prefer to remain anon so as not to get rumbled at work, and the name ties in with my website..

    On the flip side. I had some bother with an anon blogger for almost a year leaving increasingly abusive and aggressive messages. It turned out to be an old friend (the mousiest in our social circle), going through a mental meltdown who believed my blog was full of coded jokes about her.

    When we finally made contact with her husband, a lecturer in psychology ironically, he didn't have a clue it had been rumbling on for so long.

  7. I think Richjm is right - anonymity is the only sensible choice for many people. For instance, my company has a rule (which I'm breaking at this very moment) prohibiting employees posting on blogs, forums etc during working hours, and I'm sure many other firms are the same.

    The interesting question is the chicken/egg one: which comes first, the decision to post anonymously, or the need to vent one's spleen?

  8. the only thing I would challenge is the idea that newspaper commenters reflect the traditonal political outlook of the paper in question. A great of the vitriol on CIF and elsehwere is from trolls etc. I think it's shame for instance that the Guardian threads are posted at minute and so the first post often come from US posters often with right wing axes to grind which immediately sours the debate from them on. Obviously alot of the bile is from suposed liberals but not all of it. You've commented before how many times people send you links to daily mail stories half their comments must be from easily outraged lefties. I think that if paper websites stay free the idea of a typical "Daily express reader" etc will diminish as an easy stereotype.
    The sites with the least vitriol are those like flickr where users have to buy into the site or have a stake in it in some way.
    ps: fraid I use a nom de web as I have distinctive meatworld name (probably only one in world!)

  9. Whether or not you choose to don your invisibility cloak really doesn't matter a jot on lighthearted blog postings. It's only when the subject matter turns heavy that we get sniffy. But we now live in times where workers who would once be 'let go' with a proper one on one private meeting are now being sacked by faceless 'managers' in one line texts.

  10. I've certainly toyed with using my own name but, as previous posters have said, I don't want work to know.

    Not that I'm writing about work people per se, but sometimes I want to comment on the industry I'm in and it's better to do that under a pseudonym than to use my true identity. There are things I'd never dare say as me just in case they should come back to haunt me. It may sound cowardly, but it's the way it has to be.

    I can't take that risk.

  11. I'm probably a bit naive posting under my own name. I like to be honest about these things; but it may well get me in trouble one day.

  12. Let me make it clear I don't have any problem with people posting under whatever name they choose to use. It's just I find it faintly disturbing when I find something posted that is clearly heartfelt, often angry, evidently related to some deep personal wound and the credited to Squirrel Nutkin or similar.

  13. As an actor, Lucas doesn't need to use a nom de flame. If he ever loses it and makes an untoward spectacle of himself on the Web, he can always claim - à la Winona - that he was "getting into character" for some unspecified future role.

  14. Ah yes. The *nom-de-feu*. Could catch on.

  15. Not entirely germane to your post, but with a tangential relevance.

    For the duration of the Election campaign it was my job to keep an eye on all the surrounding social media hullaballoo - Twitter, Facebook, that kind of caper.

    As a nominal neytral I signed up to follow a broad cross-section of individuals online, paying little attention to bar-room philosophers like the BNP but imbibing a broad range of opinion from the mainstream parties followings.

    Counter intuitively, a disproportionate mount of the really nasty stuff - intolerance, bigotry and threats of violence - came not from those 'Nasty Party' Tories that one might expect but from nominal Labour party supporters.

    Now: Is that because they knew they were losing and sought an outlet for their frustration and anger? Or are those cuddly lefties that we grew up thinking cared about their fellow man not quite so cuddly after all?

    I'll have to wait until 2015 to discover whether my first thesis is correct. I wonder whether I'll get an answer to my second one in this thread?

  16. Can't stand vicious anonymous comments. Nothing against anonymity, but not if you're going to have a swipe at someone. Very cowardly.

    Delighted by Word Magazine blogs. Have been posting for nearly three days now, and still haven't been insulted.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. Hepworth.