On The Topic of Anonymously Commenting

A universal truth about the Internet: a lot of discussion boards are powered by anonymous commenters. Another truth: more often than not, those comments are typically, though not always, incredibly offensive but not necessarily constructive which effectively makes He Who Posts It, an asshole. And while I have found that the most humbling and therefore educational moments have come in the wake of comments that have all but torn me apart, The New Yorker maintains a different stance on the trajectory of The Anonymous Commenter.

A story titled the “Psychology of Online Comments” ran yesterday on the New Yorker site, weighing the pros and cons of he and she who make up the infamous, defamed, impossible-to-get-away-from Anonymous Commenter.

Pros? That anonymity encourages participation and discussion. Cons? And I quote, “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re not a dog.”

There are some incredibly interesting points canvassed in the story, like that disabling discussion forums on sites might just move the conversation to a different forum (thus inferring, they won’t be stopped — but is that a bad thing?) or that it might hinder the reading experience. What I found most compelling, though, was a point about the way in which discussion boards on forums like Disqus operate, allowing commenters to vote up and down comments. According to The New Yorker, this makes discerning the dogs from the humans easier but then again, why couldn’t a bunch of dogs actualize one another with a mere click upward?

[The Psychology of Online Comments via The New Yorker]

  • I would agree with Maria Konnikova that real people and their anonymous internet counterparts probably do not differ too much or that some tendencies are always there and can be discerned … I’m a moose (not a dog) also in real life: shy, munching and moosing
    away and occasionally landing unsoftly in your verbal china shop because I
    didn’t know better and you cannot tread lightly with hooves 🙂
    That said: the reason why I am going to stop blogging and commenting anytime anywhere if anonymity is prohibited is not really connected to my personality or any strange motifs I might have – it’s because I sell my work on the internet and wouldn’t want anyone googling me find out I do use words like shit, sex and so on. I simply want a neutral professional persona because I think I need it. And I don’t want health insurance companies making a tick (check) next to “wrote about drinking a glass of wine” in their secret logs … 🙂

    But if someone needs to know my identity for a good reason, I usually deal with that in emails – as do most of the people who comment on my blog anonymously and who I consider very important, regardless of their identity (I just happen to like them).

    On the other hand, there’s much content on the internet I wish I hadn’t encountered … So much anonymous stupidity, stupid hatred and stupid prejudice … It might have changed the way I see the world nowadays. It could. For real. 🙁

  • Amatoria Clothing

    I admire how well you handle negative comments. I find it truly disgusting when people post comments that are not meant to add to the discussion, but purely to be hurtful. I am guessing it is the same thing as calling someone a name to make yourself feel better.

  • Jane Pope Cooper

    i was just about to comment that people don’t really leave ugly comments, do they? but i found that to be insanely naive, so i deleted my post. i then went back to FB and saw that someone commented on your post there yesterday, “that looks really terrible”. REALLY!?!?!!?! people really do say awful things. what the H-E- double hockey sticks is that about?? i would love to see what that person was wearing when she wrote that.

    keep doing what you’re doing. if people want to comment and say awful stuff (and say it anonymously), you should consider the fact that they are miserable. you would never say anything like that unless you were. in the words of a wise bumper sticker… mean people suck.
    xo jpc

  • Amatoria Clothing

    I think Amelia just opened a big can of unpaid intern bitterness today… EEK!

  • luxe1968

    The up and down clicks don’t always identify the (I’m going to use the term “dysfunctional humans” rather than “dogs”, since dogs *never* engage in deliberate cruelty as humans do). I think it’s possible to become immune to negative comments when you realize these people have something wrong with them and this is their only way of coping. I was a huManRepeller in high school and faced daily criticism/ laughter/harassment for my outfits. I wasn’t affected because I wasn’t able to take it personally. I liked my style, and felt their opinions were irrelevant, so the comments rolled right off my back. This might be the secret to not letting others upset you with negativity- Don’t take it personally.