Cowards on the Net
Not too long ago, I got an email from someone I will call firstname.lastname@example.org. Obviously someone with a hate on for political correctness. The message was two lines long and made some rather creative suggestions for what I could do with my head.
I thought up a witty reply and tried to send it, but of course it bounced. The ranter wasn't interested in dialogue, just delivering abuse, a sure sign of a closed mind.
There's a lot of it out there, mainly populating what I call the right-wing blogosphere. I rattled some of their chains when I dared to question Islamophobic columns written by the patron saint of the political mouth breather set, Mark Steyn.
Communications from people who are angry and choose to post anonymously are uniformly brief, profane, flip, angry, ignorant, abusive and crude. It seemed inevitable that someone would blow the whistle on their cowardly game.
Kathy English, public editor at the Toronto Star, wrote an interesting column on it today, saying her paper is joining a growing list of others that are thinking of restricting anonymous posts.
Now, I have watched with some mirth the tortured efforts of mainstream newspapers like the Star to adapt to the free-for-all culture of the Web. They need it, but they just don't get it. Last year, English defended her paper's calling-out of columnist Antonia Zerbisias for making a flip reference in her blog to Bernie Farber appearing in the Pride parade, and her not knowing that he was a closet gay. It was obviously a joke, delivered with typical Internet irony and playfullness, but the Star took it seriously as a slur. Antonia's eyes must still be rolling on that one.
Never mind. English's column today makes a valid point against anonymity. She cites some recent court orders in Canada and the U.S., requiring newspapers to disclose the identities of people who post abusive or defamatory comments on their sites anonymously. She says it is important for papers like the Star to act before the courts do. The paper receives more than 15,000 comments by email each month and most, she says, are pseudonymous.
Ask some of these anonymous posters why they do it (as I did last year, when I was getting blitzed over Steyn), and they say they fear economic reprisals or loss of employment if their views are unpopular with their customers or employers. They like to describe themselves as champions of freedom of speech, but don't seem to understand that's a constitutional right in Canada, and no one can get fired for expressing an opinion. If that happens, you can take your case to a human rights commission.
Oh, right, I forgot .... human rights commissions are the enemies of these people. They think that's where their rights of free speech -- all the brief, profane, flip, angry, ignorant, crude and anonymous rantings they need to send out -- are being trampled.
I say keep sending them out if you want, folks. But don't be cowards and hide your identities. Take responsibility for your opinions, like the rest of us do.