I can’t read the news online anymore. Well, that’s not entirely true. I can’t read news articles which allow for reader comments. I can’t read any articles, even the silly blurbs about entertainers (many of whom I don’t know from Adam), which allow for reader comments. Because readers? Are mean. They are nasty. They are SO angry. They have opinions about every damned thing (often woefully un/misinformed opinions, too). They do not have a firm grasp on the rules of spelling and grammar (at all). And they are almost always – perhaps worst of all – ANONYMOUS.
I always tell Ryan, “Never say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t be willing and able to defend to his face.” I’m not foolish enough to believe that an 11-year-old isn’t going to gossip and say mean things sometimes, but I want her to understand that it is not acceptable to be cruel or ugly just because the other person won’t know about it. And no, I haven’t always practiced what I preach. I have the Triple-S gene (Snarky/Snide/Sarcastic). And it’s not recessive. And sometimes it completely overtakes my Civility gene. But lately? After spending some time puttering around the Internet and reading what people say to each other under the banner of ANONYMITY? I’m really working hard to live by example.
I understand that we’re living in a volatile political, economic, social, and environmental climate. I realize that things are happening every day, all over the world, that are upsetting. I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m disgusted and frightened and, often, horrified. And I’m quite willing to share my views about those upsetting, disgusting, horrifying things if asked (and sometimes if not asked). I understand that some people will agree with my views. Some people won’t. And while I might be screaming, “You stupid f#%@ing moron!” at those people in my head, I’m going to try really hard NOT to scream it out loud or in writing – even if I can write in a place where I don’t have to give my name. (I also work really hard to spell everything correctly and use proper grammar. Just sayin’.) I don’t want to say anything to which I’m not willing to attach my name (or my face).
Just this afternoon, I was reading an article about something political. I don’t even remember what it was and, honestly, the topic of the article was hardly even relevant. The comments (and there were a LOT of them) took on – with the very FIRST one – an ‘us against them’ tone, and nearly every commenter followed form. The personal attacks, name-calling, profanity, insults, and bad spelling and grammar were absolutely appalling. And almost every comment was ANONYMOUS. I wanted to take the whole lot of commenters and put them in a room together. I wondered how many of them would act so superior and so utterly nasty in person. I wondered how many would call each other vulgar names when standing face-to-face. Not many, I’d wager. ANONYMITY masks cowardice.
And it’s not just with news articles either. I have done my fair share of online dating over the past couple of years. It’s a great way to meet people… and an awful way to meet people. You are fairly ANONYMOUS, in that you don’t give your name or contact information, but you do (if you want) post a photo of yourself so potential suitors know you’re not a troll (unless you ARE a troll… then you’re screwed). Anyway, I think it takes some guts to put yourself out there and to approach people online… maybe not as many guts as it would to do it in person, true, but it’s still hard. Even if you’re ANONYMOUS, you still have feelings and rejection – or being ignored – still hurts like hell. As such, I think every email or ‘wink’ deserves a response, even if you know immediately you will not be going out with that person. I look at it this way – if you were to come up to me in a bar and say hello, I wouldn’t turn my back on you. I’d say hello back because it’s the polite thing to do. Most people would do that, right? But the number of people who will simply ignore those emails is astounding. I find it incredibly rude. But there is that safety – that ANONYMITY. It allows for bad manners and abject cruelty.
A couple of months ago, I came across a Facebook page dedicated to a young girl who recently died. Her friends set it up to remember her – a common occurrence on FB. I looked at it and was touched by the messages people were posting. Then it got hacked and a group of ANONYMOUS posters took it over. The things they said about this girl and the photos they posted were cruel and vulgar and reprehensible. I could only imagine what her friends and family felt when they saw them. And I knew that if those hackers hadn’t been able to hide behind their online ANONYMITY, it wouldn’t have happened.
People say all the time that the world has changed. I usually reply that it really hasn’t – that we’re just more aware of everything that’s happening at any given point in time because we’re bombarded by information 24/7. And I do believe that. But I’ve also come to realize that the world HAS changed, because WE have changed. We now have the ability, like we’ve never had before, to live ANONYMOUSLY. It makes us more daring. It makes us careless. We don’t have to have our ducks in a row or our facts straight. We don’t have to worry about things like integrity or truth or character or compassion. We don’t have to look someone in the eye when we insult him or hurt his feelings. We can say whatever we think, whenever we want, without repercussions.
Or so it seems.
But there ARE repercussions. I’m living proof. This post is proof. The way I feel every time I read comments after an online article is proof. And I’m not the only one feeling this way. I know I’m not. So many of us are worried and frustrated and those feelings are helped along and made worse by the ANONYMOUS encounters we observe every day. It’s bad.
So I vow not to live ANONYMOUSLY. And I will raise my child to live her life face-to-face, willing and able to put her name behind her words and deeds. And I hope enough people feel the way I do… if so, we can change the world again… this time for the better.