Since I've been actively blogging for over six years, I've seen the best and worst of people when they're able to leave anonymous comments on blog posts -- a practice I've always allowed.
It bothers me when someone hides behind a made up name -- "slugface99"-- spewing venomous insults, idiotic falsities, and profane rants into an otherwise mostly courteous blog conversation.
It warms my heart when someone reveals an intimacy about themselves -- a deep fear, longing, forbidden lust, or whatever -- that would have been impossible to share with a real name attached to it.
In a previous post I took TypePad, which hosts my blog, to task for failing to recognize sufficiently that people choose to connect on the Internet in various ways.
Some see the web mostly as a means to fashion social networks. They belong to Twitter, My Space, and Facebook. They want to have their identity recognized by those with whom they come in contact -- friends, work associates, strangers.
The push to establish profiles that carry across various web sites and networks (such as Open ID) assumes that people want to have a consistent identity in cyberspace.
Many, though, are wary of revealing too much about themselves. Like the characters on Lost, one of my favorite TV shows, they revel in the potential of being able to recreate themselves by casting aside their previous history.
So, good Libran that I am, my attitude is: let's have it both ways. Personally, I always use my real name, "Brian," when I leave a comment on a blog post or discussion group. But I understand why others don't want to.
Yesterday, columnist Mark Morford opined that anonymous commenting is destroying meaningful online dialogue.
But the coherent voices are, by and large, increasingly drowned out by the nasty, the puerile, the inane, to the point where, unless you're in the mood to have your positive mood ruined and your belief in the inherent goodness of humanity stomped like a rainbow flag in the Mormon church, there's almost no point in trying to sift through it anymore. The relentless nastiness is, quite literally, sickening.
Sure, sometimes. However, there's also a lot to like about being able to express your views anonymously, as "How Important are Nameless and Faceless comments?" points out (focus of this article is on the workplace).
I've had terrific conversations with people I've just met, and would never see again. I could say things that I wouldn't reveal to friends or family with whom I have a history and a future.
Raw honesty is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in everyday life. Each of us puts on a persona that masks, to either a large or small degree, who we are when we're not busy pretending to be who we're not.
Too much of a good thing, though, becomes a bad thing. Occasionally I urge commenters on my blogs to speak to each other as if they were sitting together in a coffeehouse.
Even if other people didn't know who you were, you'd still treat them courteously -- just as you'd expect to be treated. You wouldn't scream, swear, or stomp off in a huff.
You'd share a moment with some fellow human beings, recognizing that expressing differing opinions doesn't require a Nuke Em! mentality.
Today I called Sid "crazy" in a comment I left on my blog post about evolution. But I would have said the same thing if I was face to face with him, and he'd claimed that God created humans just as they are, instantly -- no natural selection required.
Speak online as you'd talk to someone in person. To my mind, that's just about the only communication rule needed on the Internet.