There has been much discussion lately in journalism circles about the pros and cons of allowing anonymous comments on newspaper websites. Proponents for eliminating anonymity say it will improve the level of civic discourse, because people are much less likely to post libelous, obscene, or irresponsible statements if they have to use their real names.
That's probably true. "Muskrat" is much less likely to call "Boogerhead" a "stupid, racist, dillweed" if he has to post under his real name of Warren G. Flanderson. That's because Boogerhead, aka Percy Leon Smithers, may look up Warren's address and shoot his tires out. Or worse.
There is little doubt that fear of bodily harm will make people more careful with their words. Of course, there's also the very real possibility that two non-anonymous people will exchange insults on a website, then challenge each other to a fight in the real world, with tragic consequences. That's not something we want any part of at memphisflyer.com.
Still, I find it admirable when people post under their own names. It's like walking into the saloon unarmed. It's badass. Which is why I do it on the Flyer website. I'm a badass. Not really. Like most people, I post under a pseudonym on other sites. I post as myself on memphisflyer.com, because I think it would be unethical of me to do otherwise on our own site.
That said, I don't believe posting anonymously is necessarily a bad thing. I get many weird, scary, unbelievable anonymous communications from people that I wouldn't get if they used their real identities. I think this is helpful. It reminds me that really twisted, angry people exist out there. I like being forewarned.
But I also like the fact that people can create noms du web that allow them to express themselves without restraint. They may be at work and posting under their real name could jeopardize their job. Or they may just enjoy creating a web persona. Whatever. There are many reasons people may prefer to remain anonymous online. And that's okay by me. If they cross the line into uncivilized behavior, we can just block them from participating.
In a web conversation, ideas are the important thing, not identities. Better to communicate anonymously than to fume alone in the dark, I say. And should we ever meet in the real world, feel free to introduce yourself. Or not.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."