Since TechCrunch switched to Facebook’s revamped comment system, tech writers have been lining up to decry anonymity, heralding the (frankly, piss poor and mediocre – but that’s a subject for another post) commenting system as an end to trolls and suggesting that people are all cowards for wanting to comment anonymously.
I for one dislike anonymous comments. I’ve called many people cowards for not having the courage to post under their real names, but in my defense they were usually being offensive and trollish. I’ve never really had a problem with anonymous commenters that put forward solid, well thought out arguments. It’s the anonymous fuckwads I’ve always had a problem with.
I’m lucky. No seriously I am. I’ve always posted and blogged under my own name. This has been facilitated by a huge ego and superior attitude which makes harsh commentary ignorable without a second thought – like water off a ducks back, so to speak.
I have very rarely had to worry about a corporate overlord doing a search to find out if I’m politically aligned with their ideals before hiring me, and quite frankly am not worried about such things, I don’t say anything online that I wouldn’t say to your face. For years I have been fortunate enough to work on my own clock.
Unfortunately most people aren’t like me. Most people don’t have egos that dwarf common sense. Most people have to worry about what their employers might think. Most people aren’t forward/loud/egocentric enough to really feel comfortable saying what they really think. They worry about who they might offend or how their friends, family and co-workers would view them if they found out that they had a Furry fetish and wanted to be Justin Bieber.
There are a million legitimate reasons why people would feel the need to comment anonymously.
- They don’t want family to find out about their illness.
- They are trying to figure out their sexuality and aren’t yet ready for others to know or pass judgement
- Their employers are Nazi’s
- Abusive spouses
The list could go on and on. I’m sure you could think of 20 reasons why you might want to post anonymously.
Funnily enough, I think the reason most people want to post anonymously has nothing got to do with possible reprisals, it’s got to do with comfort.
Do you know why people like to wear masks? Do you know why people like to play World of Warcraft and other MMO’s where they have an avatar that they design representing them? It’s comfort. It’s escape. Most people aren’t comfortable being themselves.
By playing as an avatar or commenting under a pseudonym they get to escape reality. They get to say (and do) what they think and feel. They can express themselves in terms of the person they want to be, rather than who they are.
Admittedly for some people that person is a complete asshole, but that’s besides the point.
When people don’t feel comfortable they tend to conform.
The removal of anonymity actually creates a new kind of anonymity. The anonymity of conformity. Keep your head down, work hard, don’t get noticed. Conform. Be just like everyone else and your employer won’t notice, you won’t be embarrassed, you won’t stand out.
There’s very few of us who are actually put together mentally to deal with standing out. For those lacking egos the size of small moons, what’s left when you can’t be anonymous? To become a member of circle jerk, echo chamber of agreement? After all, what else are you going to do? If you dissent you’ll be noticed, so either agree and praise or shut the hell up.
That’s exactly what TechCrunch is seeing happening to it’s comments section:
Many people are now leaving comments that gush about the subject of the article in an overly sycophantic way. It’s quite odd. The cold pricklies have turned to warm fuzzies.
I don’t know about you guys, but the idea of forcing everyone to comment with their real identity sounds a lot like forced conformity to me.
I hate trolls as much as the next blogger, but I’d rather put up with them than be faced with an internet full of insincere, scared, kiss arses.
Intelligent, free conversation is worth the price of a few bad apples.