Lost in cyberspace

Anonymity and cold keystrokes can lead to a loss of humanity online

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Across the country, websites – particularly news sites – have struggled with “anonymous comment” posters. How do you balance a robust debate with the need to be civil?

“My partners and I are all for online civility,” one website purveyor wrote to the New York Times, “but we are not willing to sacrifice a robust public forum to achieve it.”

That seems to be the prevailing notion, and that’s a good thing. When done with care, anonymous comments can breathe life into the republic by giving voice to those who might otherwise remain silent for fear of retribution or rebuke. In other countries, anonymity can be the difference between life and death, liberty or captivity.

Of course, when people take advantage of their invisibility to issue ad hominem attacks on others, it can make cyberspace as cold and uninhabitable as outer space.

But where does it say that “anonymous” has to be the opposite of “civil”?

If you were well-bred – taught manners by the adults in your life – then why shouldn’t those manners be extended to strangers in all sorts of circumstances, including on the Internet?

One supposes it’s easier to be kind to strangers on the street, simply because you are reminded by their appearance that they are, indeed, human. It’s easy to lose sight of that fact when all that passes between us is keystrokes and clicks.

We were reminded of that recently, when The Chronicle’s Editorial Department invited several of our regular anonymous commenters to the newspaper to meet us and participate in a short project we had in mind.

We may yet do it, but were prevented initially due to the fact that each of our commenters had to cancel due to health concerns in their families. We assured them that our thoughts and prayers were with them, and wished them well.

But we came away with a few residual thoughts.

First, it was a joy to correspond with some of our most devoted readers over what amounted to a social invitation, rather than the news of the day.

Second, we’ve long felt that our regular “letters to the editor” writers were like extended family, but it’s true, too, of our regular visitors online.

And, again, it was a nice reminder that we’re all much more than our Internet nicknames and our differing opinions on the state of the world. Regardless of what our readers think of the events of the day, or what our commenters post about us, we value them as fellow travelers and human beings.

If we all remembered that, we’d be a lot more civil to each other. Moreover, when someone isn’t so polite to us, we can always decide how to respond – and responding with patience and understanding, while not always easy, is never a mistake.

All of us who trade opinions on a daily basis feel very passionate about them. But we always need to remember there’s a human being on the other end.

Comments (49)

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seenitB4
72454
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seenitB4 02/29/12 - 01:08 pm
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Sean you do a fantastic

Sean you do a fantastic job......but ya shoulda kept my last one!! :)

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/29/12 - 01:10 pm
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By the way, Austin, I like

By the way, Austin, I like your attacks on the Republicans redrawing the lines. I'm a Repub, too, but this is out of line. I've been pointing out a long time Richmond County is now a predominantly black county and should have mainly black elected officials. Now that I've complimented you and hopefully appeased things, leave me alone. I've got work to do. Later all.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/29/12 - 01:13 pm
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Sean...The next time I get an

Sean...The next time I get an invite can it be just the 2 of us.....in an out of the way place---soothing music--soft lights--wait a minute I'm dreaming out loud again.....ya married/me too.....
Nevermind...:)

Willow Bailey
20240
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Willow Bailey 02/29/12 - 01:14 pm
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River, we're going to need a

River, we're going to need a sidebar, very soon.

seenitB4
72454
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seenitB4 02/29/12 - 01:23 pm
2
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Oh me oh my.....There are

Oh me oh my.....There are some posters I'd rather have 10 of .......than 1 of some others....anyway this ain't worth any more of wasting my time....so seeya
(Sean ya did a good job on here--bless ya)

Bizkit
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Bizkit 02/29/12 - 01:36 pm
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Well I tend to give the

Well I tend to give the Moderators their kudos. They do a good job with a difficult situation. Still I note that some posters flag any and everyone and others are much more tolerant. I was once asked to participate in an article about the forums but we had to give our real names-which I was reluctant and declined. That should be an indicator to myself that I may anonymously be saying things I normally wouldn't-but usually in jest. If you don't have a sense of humor I don't have much use for ya.

Sean Moores
80
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Sean Moores 02/29/12 - 01:36 pm
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Oh seenit.

Oh seenit.

David Parker
7919
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David Parker 02/29/12 - 01:55 pm
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I revealed my handle after

I revealed my handle after someone at the AC made a point about the "weight" of the comment from someone anon vs the actual person's name. I suppose that's true, otherwise, I'd still be Tvveedie. However, I am self-restrictive in my commenting and I'm not talking about unfounded or malicious posts, but legit points of view. Some of our beloved commenters on here strike me as fanatical to some degree.

It's a trade off, you can say things as yourself and nobody can blame you for using anonymity so maybe it gives your comment more weight. Conversely, you aren't saying certain things so you lose a bit on the "open-dialogue" opportunity.

scoopdedoop64
2235
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scoopdedoop64 02/29/12 - 03:02 pm
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At some point who really

At some point who really cares? Yet, I would just say that because we use an anonymous name doesn't mean that we don't have a right to a voice in matters or that it disqualifies us from bringing up valid points without fear of retribution.

Austin, I have been blunt at times and to the point; but I was not aware of anytime I took any bad shots at you if I did then please accept my apology. There was a point way back that I used to get pretty emotional over some of the issues so I took a break and tried to keep things in better perspective when I came back.

Riverman1
70391
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Riverman1 02/29/12 - 03:43 pm
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Austin said, "...I completely

Austin said, "...I completely support the concept you describe, but I cannot think of a SINGLE hot topic that gets debated on these pages that does not end up having some personality issue or background issue brought up.

Riverman has made a cottage industry out of that kind of thing. I have to laugh about it...I guess everyone needs a hobby..."

Is that Austin talking about others talking about personalities and background issues around a topic? You make a living doing that. Heh, heh, heh. (My other post was removed.)

specsta
5701
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specsta 02/29/12 - 04:13 pm
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If it weren't for the

If it weren't for the commentary on this website, this place would be a snooze fest. Anonymous or not, valid discussions about the issues in the news allows other viewpoints that might not be heard elsewhere.

It is surprising the amount of knowledge that is shared by many of the posters. We can all learn from each other.

Riverman1
70391
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Riverman1 02/29/12 - 04:15 pm
4
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This is an important

This is an important editorial and the comments that followed were an example of what I mean. I want to do my bit to ensure internet posters are shown the respect they deserve and not be subjected to uneven moderation when it comes to dealing with public figures. Courtesy works both ways.

David Parker
7919
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David Parker 02/29/12 - 04:46 pm
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1

Austin, you had me at hello

Austin, you had me at hello

Willow Bailey
20240
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Willow Bailey 02/29/12 - 04:50 pm
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David, "had you", how?

David, "had you", how?

David Parker
7919
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David Parker 02/29/12 - 05:02 pm
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ahem! Jerry Maquire like .

ahem! Jerry Maquire like . and that's my story.

Willow Bailey
20240
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Willow Bailey 02/29/12 - 05:09 pm
1
1

and you are sticking with it?

and you are sticking with it?

David Parker
7919
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David Parker 02/29/12 - 05:23 pm
1
1

probably maybe

probably maybe

Austin Rhodes
2674
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Austin Rhodes 02/29/12 - 07:22 pm
1
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Talk about a whole new world.

Talk about a whole new world. I made a suggestion that someone here was "trolling"...did not call them a TROLL...but suggested they were TROLLING.

ABUSE WARNING (post deleted)

The person in question made a completely off hand remark (that I, in no way, considered abusive...irrelevent perhaps...but not abusive) about a piece of real estate I own.

ABUSE WARNING (post deleted)

I guess if Sean had been around in the old days, he would have seen to it that a few of those REALLY abusive folks go "sleep with the fishes".

And they would have deserved it...LOL

mike1sc
197
Points
mike1sc 02/29/12 - 07:41 pm
2
2

Concerning forum users......I

Concerning forum users......I have enjoyed reading the comments concerning this story much more than the story itself. But I will say that as soon as I read the story from my print edition this morning, I chuckled in trying to imagine all the noble things posters were going to say about themselves in the forum today.....I wasn't disappointed!

Pu239
284
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Pu239 02/29/12 - 08:03 pm
0
0

I seem to be invisible except

Unpublished

I seem to be invisible except on the discussion thread...so I'm guessing if you call out outright lies and misrepresentations by other posters....you get banned? Whatever....

Patty-P
3516
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Patty-P 03/01/12 - 02:38 pm
1
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I'm appalled that I didn't

I'm appalled that I didn't get an invite to said 'party'.

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