Below is a short clip from a very interesting panel discussion on the state of civility online. The panel includes Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia, Andrew Keen author of “The Cult of the Amateur”, and Micah Sifry co-founder of “Personal Democracy Forum.”
I have always believed that at the heart of the lack of civility problem online lies anonymity. I firmly believe that the trolls would disappear if they were forced to take ownership for their words and opinions. Online discussion would instantly become much more thoughtful and relevant. Disagreements would suddenly be handled with civility.
As someone who works “online” I am fascinated and saddened by the rudeness, anger, and hate that people feel free to display when they are able to hide behind the anonymous moniker when commenting or entering an online discussion. These same people would never display this kind of rude and disruptive behavior in their everyday offline lives. And most importantly they would be incredibly embarrassed if their own “printed” comments were suddenly attached to them by name. Yet with the anonymity veil protecting them they feel free to be abusive.
That said, I honestly believe that anonymity serves an important purpose online. It allows people to express opinions that they would otherwise be afraid to express. It allows people to explore things that they would otherwise be fearful of exploring.
Imagine, for example, a health oriented website where someone wasn’t able to ask for advice anonymously. Or someone in an abusive situation not being able to anonymously explore how to gain the strength needed to remove themselves from that situation. Or a person who feels alone in their situation..whatever it may be…not being able to find a supportive community online where they feel safe to share.
Fear of exposure could suck so much of the life and usefulness out of the online world. I can’t imagine the ability to be anonymous online disappearing and frankly wouldn’t want it to. It’s too important.
So yes..a true double edged sword. And I for one certainly don’t have the answers.
Personally I strive for openness and ownership online. It’s not always easy. But it forces me to be thoughtful and civil.
Take a look at the clip. And, if you feel compelled to share your thoughts on the subject please do. I would love to read them. Oh and feel free to do so anonymously. 🙂
[via fanboy.com ]