The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper has a section called The Vent. The forum is a place where readers air general grievances about current issues, some of them humorous and mostly void of personal attacks, with the exception of political figures and parties. Although politicians voluntarily enter the public arena known for slanted criticism in a two-party system. In contrast to The Vent are the innumerable open-ended comments sections across the Web, a ready-made forum that highlights how anonymity supersedes accountability. Have you ever been advised not to say something about someone that you wouldn’t verbalize to someone’s face? I know I’ve done that self-check at times. Somehow people think that posting online is an opportunity to ignore the Golden Rule.
The anonymous written word is similar to the spoken word of a child without a filter. Take for instance my son, Peter. Why else would he tell me that he wished that I was smarter and tell me that I look pregnant when I’m only PMSing and bloated? He speaks without thinking, but he gets a pass because of his autism. What excuse can pardon the online respondent whose comments lack tact, sometimes truth, and above all consequences?
I recently watched psychologist Brené Brown lecture about vulnerability. She spoke about her favorite quote from Theodore Roosevelt that begins with, “It’s not the critic who counts.” Many online respondents are exactly that-critics who thrive on inciting a reaction. My sociology background begs the questions: who is commenting and more importantly-why? The answer, according to Brown, would be that the people in the “cheap seats” are commenting. Those “cheap seats” are risk-free because they are anonymous.
I read a wonderful article on Bloomberg this past week entitled, “How Cursive Helped My Autistic Son.” And then I made the mistake of scrolling through the comments section. Gone are the days of the benign comments like, “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.” Here’s a sampling of comments (punctuation left in place) from someone named steveiam:
“Perhaps, it is time for the breeders to take charge of their little mistakes.”
“The soccer moms are constantly braying for more, and ever more funding, so their little mistakes can be taken care of by 'The Whole Village, (Hilary Clinton).”
“In the case of Autism...let the parents own up to their responsibility.”
“NOBODY, other than you, REALLY cares about your Son…or was he a mistake?”
If you want to read the comments in full then have at it. http://mobile.bloomberg.com/comments/2013-09-27/how-cursive-helped-my-autistic-son/thread/1061410960
My only purpose in sharing these hateful comments is to demonstrate my case and to make a plea to you. Don’t be anonymous and don’t engage the outliers by giving power to their words and life to their thoughts. Instead let their words die unchallenged.