January 27, 2009

It Might Be Worth Reading - If You Actually Existed

You've probably noticed that many of the newspapers you read on-line (and other sources - including this site) have open letters sections. Anyone can type, send and watch their words posted. I'm of two minds on this practice. There has been a long standing tradition at every paper I'm familiar with that Letters to the Editor are reference checked - it makes for feedback that has much more integrity than the current free-for-all that lowers the bar.

As a writer, the feedback can be great, whether someone agrees with you or not. It's rewarding to have discussions going on that proved you've touched a nerve, or flipped a rock over, or even missed something.

But troll through the G&M site, the Star site, the NYT or any other open forum. It's mostly a bunch of anonymous buttheads that turn up to play. There's an interesting piece on this subject here, in the Timesonline. The author, Sathnam Sanghera, makes a great point: everything is not created equal. All words are not worthy.

He apparently met a woman at a function, googled her later and stumbled over an admonition that "this woman is a NIGHTMARE. Avoid the witch!" Took him a moment to realize this was an anonymous line on some scrubby site, and no, it did not merit the same weight as the fact that he'd spent an evening actually meeting this person.

I'll admit, anonymous comments register little with me. You don't count if you won't stand behind your words. And yeah, even positive ones. Have to be fair about this. I have less of a problem with someone who maintains a standard screen name, but if you check out comments sections often enough, you can tell when people start switching around. Spelling and grammar patterns are pretty much like fingerprints - they reveal more than you realize.

If you won't put your name on your words, you are ashamed of them. I totally understand anonymity where subject matter is sensitive, but that's hardly the 95% of idiots who spout garbage from the safety of their keyboards, spewing venom and unsubstantiated crap they would never dream of actually saying aloud if they were to be held accountable. My name is on my stuff, and if I'm wrong, I'll get told. That seems fair.

I get great mail from people who disagree with me, and I welcome hearing from anyone. It's amazing what useful discourse can occur when everyone is polite and open-minded.

Too bad the same can't be said of the cowards who clog the boards in some forums - truly the downside of this great tool is the bitter anger of the unvalidated. Read some controversial columnist sometime (no, not me - I'm tame), and watch the seething. It's pretty shameful.

But remember - all opinions thus expressed are not created equal.


Blogger Nursedude said...

Having read the column in question I quite agree with Sanghera's statement "I remembered that a significant portion of online feedback is mad and moronic" So true.

I sort of agree with you on your point about anonymous posters but do worry about privacy issues in general. Sometimes there can be very real reasons why a poster "cloaks" their identity ie. fear of retribution, identity theft etc.

I've used my current "handle" for about 12 years since my student nurse days. Initially I started using it so I could post in student nurse forums w/o giving away private information. That was done at the advice of instructors who wanted us to feel free to post and question things w/o having to open ourselves up to possible recriminations from school staff who used to watch the forums for any sign of criticism. Being one of only 3 men in my class I probably could have picked a less conspicuous username (grin). Most of my friends have come to know my pseudonym and have actually commented when I've posted something in a forum or The Star that they agree or disagree with.

If I'm sending an unsolicited email to the editor, someone like yourself or Michael Coren with regards to a column or show I will always send it through my home email account for the very reasons you state in your column.

My favourite cartoon shows a dog sitting at the keyboard of a computer and above it the saying: "On the Internet no one knows you're a dog". Pretty much sums up the whole nature of anonymity on the net.


Rob Jewitt aka Nursedude

January 27, 2009 7:03 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

See, I never thought of 'nursedude' as particularly anonymous, for the reasons you point out (grin).

And at least your comments can consistently be aligned with the same person, which I find myself valuing almost as much as a real name.

I only take flight on people who flog a writer through the Star site (or wherever) because they can hide, or use my Blame It On Lorraine email which is blind. And from the quality of some of the comments, I think I'll take the dog....

January 28, 2009 11:24 AM  

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