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Anonymity and the Internet

One of the reasons that this blog doesn’t have a particularly large readership is because I do my best to alienate and deride the commenters I find objectionable. Life’s too short to deal with people I don’t like, and your free speech rights mean dick when you’re writing on my bathroom wall.

The blogosphere is filled with people who just have to get their message out, no matter what it is or how poorly-defended it may be. We know that up to 90% of face-to-face communication is done through body language: so what you say isn’t as important as how you say it. On the internet, body language is communicated through smileycons and rhetoric; if you’ve worked in an office for any length of time, for example, you’ve probably asked yourself if that terse email from a co-worker was meant in anger, or if he was just being succinct. There’s a lot of room for miscommunication.

What about inflammatory language? Well, it takes little effort at all to insult someone online. Outside of a protest rally or the floor of the Senate, you almost never see someone called a “chickenhawk” to his face because that’s an invitation to fight. The average 21st century man (women never get called chickenhawks) isn’t comfortable enough with confrontation to risk that. In the real world, name-calling and personal insults have potential repercussions, which is why so many people do it online, instead. For my part, I never say anything online to anyone that I wouldn’t say to his or her face. I despise the kind of coward that snipes from behind the wall of anonymity and distance the internet provides.

One thing I’ve never understood is the kind of person who will start off a discussion by first engaging in gratuitous attacks, then try to make a point. Or will pepper his argument with ad hominem attacks on people who might disagree. What invariably happens is that the people who were insulted will reply in kind (which is perfectly reasonable, given the provocation), and the original insulter will use that as an excuse to make further attacks (“You idiots can’t refute my argument, and this website is just an echo chamber for dimwits like yourselves!”). Why bother? Why start that fight? Because it’s easy. It’s confrontation by proxy, where you get to prod and poke and taunt without risk. A person who engages in that kind of behavior isn’t interested in having a discussion, and he’s not seriously trying to change your mind. He’s also not worth your time.

Which brings me in my roundabout way to Jeff’s post here. As far as I’m concerned, Protein Wisdom is an invaluable daily read, and I look forward to Jeff’s insight on issues that simply do not get enough play in either the MSM or other blogs. I’ve found his arguments to be extremely well-defended, and if I don’t entirely agree with everything he says, I always know why he says it. That’s vital: anyone can make an assertion. It takes a bit more effort to back that assertion up with facts and a clear path of reasoning. He’s got a very lively comments section, which includes a number of self-appointed contrarians that are more comfortable making baseless assertions and gratuitous insults than addressing his arguments in any meaningful way. He recently banned one such commenter, who, not content to snipe at Jeff on Jeff’s own site, decided he’d do it on other sites, as well. (I’d have banned him a lot earlier myself, but it’s not my blog.) Now, Jeff’s in further receipt of gratuitous insults, this time in the form of a blog post complaining about how Jeff runs his blog. This, of course, has devolved into a snarkfest where everyone who disagrees with Jeff comments about how stoooopid Jeff is and how impenetrable his rhetoric gets and how he parents his son, etc.

Why write a post like that? Like I said: because it’s easy. Why comment on a post like that? Because it’s even easier. Online cowards run in packs.

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