Online anonymity: giver of voice topolitical dissidents, community-maker for lovers of quirky sex, forum for corporate whistle-blowers. Also? Licence to be angry. Angrier than angry. Seething mad withrage, motherfucker.
Republican Tim Couch, a state representative in Kentucky, recently proposed a legislated ban on anonymous online message boards or comment sections.
“Some nasty things have been said about high-school kids in my district,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Couch’s diplomacy in that quotation barely hints at the maliciousness he’s talking about. Let’s face it: nasty is up a notch online. Anonymous web-posting sucks spite from the recesses of our grey matter, adds in a dash of hyperbole and throws it at the world.
Forest-dwelling West African putty-nosed monkeys were recently discovered to use a rudimentary language that goes well beyond “Holy crackers, everybody! Watch out for that leopard!” They can identify themselves and yell plans (“Charlene here! I’m swingin’ left. Those red berries next to the mangrove on the right look wack. Check ya.”)
But here’s what our species conjures up scooting through the world with vastly harder-working cerebellums (taken from the comments following a YouTube-posted CBC news segment about poverty): “Squeegee kids deserve to get raped anally for being poor. Go and get a job you lazyporch monkeys.”
Even monkeys wouldn’t give that the nod as an acceptable rebuke.
See, with accountability as take-it-or-leave-it-at-log-in, people have gone to crumbs. The internet has turned the world into one giant bathroom stall where every shitsicle’s got a Sharpie. It used to be: “For a good time, call Lezlie! 422-SLUT!” until the kindly custodian got out the Zap and cleaned up your reputation before recess.
Now it’s “tyler summers...is a plastic, creepy, overly-tweezed, awkward in bed, thinks he’s ‘all that’ skank-ho,” and it’s being viewed by a couple thousand haters a day on “always anonymous...always juicy” JuicyCampus.com.
The loathing’s no shocker. Any magazine or newspaper letters section reader knows complaints-to-praise run a zillion-to-one. This paper’s Love the Way We Bitch section online (where, coincidentally, I hear regularly about my own shoddily written sickness and God-awful sanctimonious one-sided tripe) had 1,475 pages of Bitches last time I checked. And that’s not even counting the Bitches in response to the Bitches.
I’ll take my punches as they come (even though my name’s misspelled at twice the rate it’s copied correctly). I’m practically begging for readers’ wrath when I release words out into the world. But it’s not just journalists and bloggers who take hits from anonymous online posters. It can be anyone who steps afoul of the pugnacious public. Anyone whose apartment emits peculiar smells at suppertime. Anyone who wears perfume on the bus. Anyone who lives on Agricola Street.
Anonymous online comments are often over-the-top, demeaning and base. Nameless posters posit positions they couldn’t possibly defend. They type out ALL-CAPS- ANGER!!!!!!-filled viewpoints no sensible person would spout off with a name attached. Here’s one, from a comment on a TechDirt blog story on MySpace’s attempts to eliminate sexual predators from its site: “Frankly, i think they should continue to let the pervs on myspace to teach these dumb ass kids a lesson: life’s harsh and there are fucked up people out there...”
Wonder what the putty-faced monkeys would think about that?
I can’t help but think that in criticizing social apathy---low voter turn-out, poor attendance at community meetings---maybe we’re missing something. People are getting their ya-yas out online. Shift your gaze to anonymous online message boards and you can officially declare apathy extinct. I don’t know how people have time to pick up their forks for tofu scramble, let alone hold down jobs and master Tennis Wii. The world must be exhausted from festering in its aggression all day and night on the internet.
Still, how can you argue against it?
Kentucky state rep Tim Couch says his bid to banish internet anonymity is really just to increase awareness of online bullying.
Bullying is one thing---it’s targeted, it’s pulled off by evil people who want to inflict emotional and psychological pain on classmates and ex-friends. But what I’m talking about is anonymous rage that blows like a dirty bomb. I’m talking about simple, barely directed ire.
Call it a product of our tech-loaded society, where face-to-face chatter has become a lost skill and civility has gone in the sewer. But all this anger points to something else as well---the pulse of communities.
Besides, if we all stopped our anonymous slagging on the internet, we’d probably all just start talking like putty-nosed monkeys.