This article, “Anonymous trolls are as pathetic as the anonymous “sources” that contaminate the gutless journalism of the New York Times, BBC, and CNN,” popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. I read it and thought it might make for a good conversation starter over here. This is certainly not the article I would have written about decorum on the WWW. While I am with the author to an extent – yup, people are heinous and rude and hostile when they can hide behind avatars and pseudonyms – I’m not with him wholesale. I think, for one, that he oversells the uniqueness of internet discourse as a particularly vile form of human expression. I’m more of the mind that there’s a continuity between our digital selves and our material selves. What takes place online might be an amplification of the worst of what we are, but it isn’t something that just emerges when we retreat to the safety of a keyboard. People – individually and collectively – are fantastically hateful and racist and cruel to each other in real life. People – individually and collectively – are also fantastically creative and giving and funny and inspiring. This also gets played out online.
I also depart from the author in his his drawing a correlation between two forms of anonymity. Sometimes people remain anonymous to facilitate behaving like total jerkfaces. And then there’s the role of whistleblowers and subversives who, when journalism is done well, crack open powerful stories about the state of the world and begin processes of transformation.
What do you think? Is there something really different going on online? Or do you think that this is simply an amplification of things that are already at play in the material world? Also, what are your thoughts on the usage of anonymous sources in traditional media?