The New York Times op-ed page today has a big essay on anonymous blog comments and what to do about them: "Where anonymity breeds contempt," by Julie Zhuo, a "product design manager" at Facebook.
So how do you feel about anonymous comments, fellow Unfair Park Anonymati? Me, my own feelings are mixed.
Zhuo leans into her subject with some terrible accounts of anonymous bullying and harassment on the web. She winds up -- predictably, I thought -- with a description of all the good things Facebook is doing to encourage better behavior.
I could write a deal like that. I would quote the commenters here who are always calling me an "idiot fucktard," and then I would wind up with something like, "I know where you live, and I'm sending Wilonsky over with a ball bat." Of course that would not be true, but it would be fun.
So why am I mixed?
Well, look, nobody likes the kind of anonymous Internet bullying that amounts to terrorism. But that isn't really what Zhuo is writing about today, in spite of the way she starts. The meat of her message has more to do with things like my fucktard comments, which I guess we could summarize as simple coarseness.
The remedies she says she is working at Facebook are designed "to replicate real-world social norms by emphasizing the human qualities of conversation." She says she has worked on a design widget by which "people's faces, real names and brief biographies ('John Doe from Lexington') are placed next to their public comments, to establish a baseline of responsibility."
So it's a kind of high school hall monitoring, I guess -- a wooden box the coach can stand on to gaze over the heads of the crowd, so he can say, "I see you over there by the water fountain, Mr. Schutze! You are not invisible!"
I don't know. Here's the upside of rude coarse anonymous fucktard commenting as I see it: The ability to post comments anonymously is the verbal psychological equivalent of the TSA's new advanced imaging technology scanners. It gives us an X-ray vision straight into the unfiltered un-insulated inner psyche of the commenter.
I think it's interesting. And maybe even useful. After all, I argue for a living. Always have. But people don't. It's useful to me to be able to peer directly into the hearts of my most hostile readers, people who probably do not argue for a living and do not see argument as a game or art.
I look at a fucktard comment, and I imagine a cartoon -- me on the left with a caption balloon over my head, the commenter on the right with his own balloon. In my balloon, I'm thinking, "Well, that was a plum of an argument I just made, and what a good boy am I." The commenter's balloon says, "I'd like to whop that fucktard in the head with a ball bat."
Wow. Really? I should keep that in mind. I don't think it will change my argument. But I would rather know than not know, if for no other reason than to realize how far my own wave-length may diverge from the farthest frequencies.
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I know that the fucktyard guy is only one commenter and that a good measure of his act may be anonymous schtick. But it still shows me a spectrum of response that I would not be able to gauge if everyone's speech were filtered by social norms of politeness.
And there is always this: If you can't take what people say back to you when you talk, don't talk. Don't go into the kitchen in the first place. The most important thing you need to know how to do, if you're going to dish it out, is take it.
Anyway, what do you think? What if you had to post your picture and name next to every comment? Would you comment?
And, by the way, Mr. Fucktard, I have a serious question for you, if you are out there in the cloud today. Which is worse? A fucktard? Or a libtard? If you were me, which would you go for?