Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A couple of posts ago, Book Lady made a comment in the comments section (a thoroughly appropriate place to put a comment I might add) that said this:

P.S. I had to stop by because you were the only commenter brave enough to actually put your name on your comment over at The Rejector. In a sea of anonymous commenters, you stood out. :-)

I thought it was important to post this as another example of my amazing wonderfulness.

And also because it really set me thinking in the last few days.

Everyone knows one of the joys of the internet is the ability to be anonymous. Everyone also knows it is one of its greatest dangers. Who exactly is the person behind the avatar? How can we trust anyone online? People have built relationships based on playing make believe, fall in love with someone they thought was a hoolahoopist and turns out to be a doctor, etc.

And hopefully when we enter the world of the wide web, we take caution, we don't trust completely, we are careful not to give out personal information to just anyone. We are responsible.

I have always been aware of the anonymity and its sinister evilness on the web. Of the extremes of horribleness. But now that I have become more of a participant, not just an observer, in the past few years, I have to say, it is the more subtle moments of anonymity, that have really begun to surprise me.

I exist in a part of the internet that is populated by more of the thoughtful, mature, and intelligent people out there. I am talking about the writing world. I have a lovely group of bloggers with whom I can have a very interesting exchange of ideas, as well as am a member of several very reputable writing forums - where, for example, a newbie will quickly be chastised for using "text speak".

And so I find it all the more upsetting when I read certain blogs by very intelligent professionals, and people in return post extremely nasty defensive comments. Okay, everyone is allowed their opinion, but here's the crux . . . they do it anonymously. And that is just . . . well . . .chicken.

To put it more eloquently, people have stopped taking responsibility for their actions. People are hiding behind the pseudo-anonymity (no one is truly anonymous on the internet as ISP's prove) of the internet to let the basest of emotions take over. You would think in an environment that forces you to write things out, to take the time to put words down, there would be a thoughtfulness associated with it. Not so.

And it isn't like these really strongly opinionated offensive posts (comments) are even helpful to the debate. I have never seen a nasty comment help move a discussion towards any direction other than mud slinging.

What happened to thoughtfulness?

Now some people claim they wish to be anonymous because they don't want the crazies to track them down, fair enough. But it has been my experience that these same people are also the ones who just run off at the mouth, feel free to insult whomever, and then run away as quickly as they can.

There are many reasons I am not anonymous on the internet. One of them being that I am here to try to promote my work, and it would do a great disservice to say, "Go buy my book, I won't tell you what it is called, or what it looks like . . . but you'll figure it out." But another is I knew that by being myself, I would have a responsibility to think before I spoke. To remember that ANYONE can read these blog entries, and that, this may sound cheesy, but I wanted to make sure that my parents would be able to read what I wrote, and I would not feel ashamed.

I have very strong opinions. I also talk loudly, you might not know this as I haven't chatted with many of you in person, but believe me, it's true. And I get carried away emotionally far more than is necessary in a debate. In short, I am far from perfect. No one is perfect, and, my word, EVERYONE makes mistakes.

But these days so few people own up to them. It isn't just the anonymity on the internet, it's the false apologies given by the media: "I'm sorry if this article offended you", or by politicians, "While things have turned out differently, we did what we thought was right at the time".

Heck it is the lack of apologies in general. The admitting you were wrong. We are so focused on feeling good that even when we know we did wrong, we can't admit to it because that moment of, "I'm sorry, I was wrong" is such an icky feeling. Can't we just get over ourselves?

What happened to people taking responsibility for their actions?

At any rate, that is one of the main reasons I do not post anonymously on the internet. It keeps me honest. It keeps me humble (yes humble, sometimes . . .sheesh, I too can be humble!). It keeps me kind. It keeps me embarrassed at times too when I do say the wrong thing, or just put my nose where it doesn't belong.

And it keeps me human.


Kate Boddie said...

I hear you on that. I need to make a post on my Boddie blog about my anonymous reviewers at a humor website and how, simply put, stupid and ridiculous their reviews are. Funny how they're more than willing to review anonymously on one site but when it comes to actually commenting on mine, they can't even do it anonymously. I've always said, never say anything on the net that you wouldn't say to someone's face. That practice will save a lot of embarassment in the end.

Charles said...

Hurrah to being accountable for your actions.

I think not being anonymous is also about being responsible for your identity. One doesn't need to sign their real name on the Internet--it can be an alias as long as it's a consistent alias. Giving out names is a form of trust and I don't think you can build any relationship without some level of trust.

Nik's Blog said...

Again, well said, Adrienne.

This is terrific reading on the subject: http://johnaugust.com/Assets/writing_in_digital_age.pdf


Mary said...

You’re so right about this.

We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve probably all said things we later regret. But the grand Anonymous sets herself apart from the human communication of the Internet. Sometimes there’s a valid reason for that, I suppose. But I’ve rarely seen any nasty comments with a name attached.

Heidi the Hick said...

Well thank you for your wonderful amazingness, Adrienne!

You know I do a lot of thinking about the whole privacy/ anonymity issue. It's taking me a long time to get comfortable with the idea of putting my whole name and my uncovered face out there in the world. I'll have to someday, hopefully soon, and I'm just waiting for that really good reason to say, "Hey! This is me!"

I learned very quickly though that whatever you write and post, or comment, sticks around out there in the net. I don't want anything I say to negatively impact me, and I make a serious effort to watch what I say. This doesn't mean I misrepresent myself, but it does mean that I have to think. Is that really what I mean? Would I say that to somebody's face???

(In agreement to what Kate Boddie said at the top of the list!)

Anonymity is false bravery. And this is a great post, a topic that needed to be brought up!)

(I'm actually looking forward to the Great Unmasking of Heidi The Hick!)

Catherine Edmunds said...

Anonymity is all too often a refusal to take responsibility for one's words. For those of us who are writers, that's just plain daft.

MJ said...

Adrienne, I think you have voiced something in general about our society today. Personally, I know I deal with the issue of anonymity on the internet many times. I haven't (I am happy to say) left any nasty comments and I hope I never do, but anonymity is a way for hiding for me, I am afraid of what people might think of me = I am afraid of standing up for what I am saying (which is why I can't maintain a blog for too long). It's not that different from someone who leaves nasty comments, even if my motivations are different. But it does remind me/us, that we are responsible for ourselves - moreover, it's not just a question of responsibility, but also a question of self-evaluation.

The Novice Writer/MJ/Kveenly

J M McDermott said...

i am a monstrous robot bent on global domination, and i stopped by here on my path to universal robot dominion to remind the interwebbers of another very foul, habit indeed, of which i - a pernicious, malcontent machine - currently commit.

i have acquired the name of another and stolen it as my own to leave a comment!

i - who, for all you know, is j m mcdermott - believe you are all positively peripatetic.

now, how can i conquer this word verification, because evil robots can't read these very well...

Rebecca Taunton said...

A very thought-provoking blog entry. I definately agree. People seem to prefer to leave responsibility for their actions to other people. They do not want to be accountable anymore, and the internet is a perfect place for that. You can be as anonymous as you want to be.

I've enjoyed reading your blog (a pleasant hop across from the world of WD!).


Adrienne said...

Kate - exactly. Even if you want to be anonymous for other valid reasons, I think a good rule of thumb is to not write anything you wouldn't say to the person's face.

Charles - there is definitely a level a trust when you actually share personal information, even a name, with people. And I don't think everyone on the internet needs to be that open. But if you are going to participate somewhere, and often, build relationships with people, you have to respect them and be accountable for the things you say. So, yes, I totally agree with you.

nik - ooh thanks for the link!

mary - exactly . . . it is extremely rare to see those kinds of truly nasty comments with any sort of name attached. The name makes all the difference, doesn't it.

heidi - but even though you hide your face, you still have an identity on the web. You don't need to be exactly you, but by having heidi the hick as your alter ego, by having that be the only name you post under, you are still being accountable for your words. (and girl, it's a really pretty face, you should reveal it someday!)

catherine - succinct and very well put.

mj - that is a very interesting perspective on the argument. I suppose anonymity does give the shy people a chance to speak up for themselves when otherwise they might not. There definitely is always a good side to the bad. Something to think about, thanks!

evil robot - we meet again. And yet somehow you passed the word verification. You may have won this battle, but you have not won the war!!

rebecca - welcome and thank you! And yay WD!