Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of Trolls and Pseudonyms

There was an interesting story on NPR last night that I thought was worth bringing to your attention - "Who Are You, Really? Activists Fight for Pseudonyms."

As all of you know, almost no one with a blog (like, for instance, Bilbo) posts using their real name - they take a screen name, alias, pseudonym (from the Greek pseud- (false) + onyma (name)), or - with a nod to eViL pOp TaRt, nom de plume (French for "pen name"). People do this for many reasons: to maintain their privacy, to protect themselves from attack for taking unpopular positions on issues, or simply to be able to act stupid without having to admit who they are.

The last reason is probably the most common, or so it seems. Read the comments posted after any political story on CNN or any online newspaper site ... a small minority are thoughtful, measured, grammatical, and have good spelling and punctuation, but most are loud, rude, vulgar, racist, or downright stupid; it's no wonder that the commenters wish to hide their intellectual and social shortcomings behind a screen name.

But more and more, websites are requiring people to be able to prove their identity in order to post comments. Some newspaper sites require a commenter to provide a name and address (although these are not posted online without the commenter's permission), and many blogs or other sites require one to have a Facebook or other social networking account in order to post. Is this right?

Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, was quoted in the NPR story as noting that some of his paper's comments sections still operate under what he called the "Wild West" system, where all one needs to post a comment is an email address; and he goes on to note that those sections tend to have more trolls — commenters who bait each other with racism or personal attacks. The sections of the paper which require Facebook logins, on the other hand, are comparatively civil. Orr believes that the reason for this is that "trolls don't like their friends to know they are trolls ... If you are who you [say you] are, you're less likely to leave a comment that makes you look bad."

Do we have an inherent right to anonymity when expressing our opinions? Should people be allowed to unleash their inner troll and act like an uneducated ass clown if they wish?

Simply by going online, we give up a little bit of our privacy and anonymity. But if we're going to express an opinion, we should be willing to own up to it. Many of you know me under my real name, and I don't mind sharing it with my readers once I've established that they aren't ... well ... trolls.

My mother always used to tell us, "If you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all." And with that in mind, I have to say that John Boehner has a nice haircut.

But that's as far as I'm willing to go, whether I write as Bilbo or as ... somebody else.

Have a good day. Be willing to own up to your opinions.

More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

You raise an interesting point, Bilbo. I see that we have costs that go with expressions of opinion in the everyday world, costs that we might not want to incur.

For some of us, our pseudonyms serve as alternate personas: experiments with a somewhat alterate self that may or may not be long-term as we discover who we really are. Peer Gynt in the play found nothing as he peeled away the layers of artifice.

I agree that anonymity should not serve as a license to being unpleasant or trollsome. It is an actual display of character to refrain from ill behavior in circumstances where you can get away from it.

By the way, eViL pOp TaRt is more sunner and has bigger boobs than Angélique!

Anonymous said...

evil pop --- pics?

John said...

There are definitely times when I've not posted something or regretted posting something because I do use my real name.

Perhaps honesty and sensitivity are occupational hazards for preacher that takes the calling to follow Jesus as ... well, a calling to follow Jesus.

You've read my rants for a couple of years and know that I pretty much write from the heart. If I was embarrassed to have people know what I think, I'd be too embarrassed to publish it.

Mike said...

Sometimes a real name (John Smith) can be more of a pseudonym than a pseudonym.