Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

June 5, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

Anonymity is driving the uncivil ways of the Internet, I believe. I’m proud to say that most of the people who publish at this site (both those who post and those who comment) do so in their real life names. I am convinced that this choice to disclose who we are facilitates conversation.

It recently occurred to me that a good illustration of the corrupting power of anonymity comes from “The Wizard of Oz.” Remember the rudeness of the Wizard while he was anonymous? “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Progress was possible only when the curtain was pulled back and the parties could work together face-to-face.

Tom Tomorrow provides yet more insight into the corrosive power of Internet anonymity.


Category: Communication, Community, Internet

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to be anonymous. The Dutch club for better education that I am a member of has many anonymous commenters on their forum. If their real names would be publicly known they would be terminated instantly or bullied out of their jobs and never be able to work in education again.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Planeten: Good point. There are legitimate reasons for anonymity, such as the one you described. The secret ballot at election time is another. I do think that letting people know who you are should be our societal default, however.

      BTW, I do have a Facebook account, and anyone who has any size community of "friends" is pretty much identified. The level of civility is high compared to many other sites, where one can drop in, spread venom and leave with out indicating who one really is. Kathryn D. Hubbell stated it well:

      "Being allowed to post anonymously online further coarsens what public discourse is left in our social and political lives. Anonymity brings out the worst in people; it allows them to spew vitriol, hatred, racism, prejudice and plain lies without fear of being ostracized or facing any kind legal consequence (think libel and slander).When added to the fact that we can insulate ourselves online, receiving only that information and that news which agrees with our own personal opinions, we — as a society — are in trouble. We end up with citizens who are uninformed or ill-informed; who see no reason to consider an opposing viewpoint; and who feel free to contribute to the anger, hatred and lies already out there."

  2. The coarsening thing is true. The forum I mentioned suffered from that and they decided to moderate all posts in advance (and moderators get moderated by their colleagues).

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I have consistently used the handle "Niklaus Pfirsig" for many years largely because my real name is more common than most would suspect, and one person with whom I share my real name is somewhat wealthy, politically my opposite and is just enough of a jerk to sue me for using his (and My) name.

    I actually started using "Niklaus" in the 1980s on computer bulletin boards where almost no-one used their real name, and when I moved to the internet, Added "Pfirsig" as sort of a play on Pirsig (author and Philosopher) and Pfirsich (German for "peach") to differentiate myself from all the other Niklaus' on the net.

  4. Tim Hogan says:

    I frequently post in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, less so in the NYT and Washington Post. The PD allows anonymous posting where all the wackadoodles come out to play. The NYT and Post do not. I like the no anonymity rule because it frequently outs cowards and curs.

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