Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

By Anitra Cottledge

Recently, a colleague of mine was interviewed for the local news regarding a retention initiative for students of color. It was a great segment, and I told him so. A day or so after the segment aired, he emailed the link for the clip to several people, and pointed our attention to the comments.

I groaned. Lately, I dread reading the comments sections of online blogs, newspapers, and other publications, particularly when the story has to do with social justice in some way or another. I’m sure you’ve seen comments of this ilk; just see some of the commentary surrounding Naomi Schaefer Riley’s comments about eliminating black studies.

Some of this is part of being a citizen in a democratic society; we are expected – at least, in theory – to engage in healthy discussion in which we can respectfully debate and disagree with statements if we so choose. I think that social media, including blogs, can be a powerful site of rich, public discourse. For instance, whether or not you identify yourself as a feminist, I would hope that most of us can see the role and impact of blogs like Feministing or Crunk Feminist Collective in activism, conversation and thought-creation.

That being said, a lot of times, the comments on social justice-focused articles make me want to bang my head on a desk. When I read comments that I feel are trollish, bigoted, over-the-top, or just downright hateful, I just sigh. Or growl. Or throw something.

Lately, the phenomenon of anonymous commenting has brought up a few questions for me: Is anonymity a boon or a curse? Are people who use anonymous commenting as a platform to talk trash or share their racist/homophobic/sexist/classist/ableist/etc. views just acting out? In other words, is there a performative aspect to anonymous commenting that doesn’t accurately reflect a person’s views? Or is anonymous commenting a way for people to showcase the way they really feel about an issue? Does it give voice to those who would not otherwise be heard, and those who feel like they can’t express the way they feel in face-to-face dialogues about social justice topics?

And if people’s actual views are more in line with the vitriol or ignorance they spout anonymously on the intrawebz, where does that leave us when we need to have face-to-face conversations about these same topics?

I have heard some people argue that people should be forced to login with their Facebook or Twitter account to post comments to some websites, but I’m not comfortable with that, nor do I think that’s the answer. For one, people could be using pen names or fake names on FB and Twitter. Also, that’s a little too much policing of people’s privacy.

Privacy is another element of this conversation. When the cast of The Hunger Games became public, there were several racist remarks made about the casting choices. There was even a Tumblr site created to expose “Hunger Games fans on Twitter who dare to call themselves fans yet don’t know a damn thing about the books.”

Should we call out these folks who make these comments? Some would argue that if your Twitter stream, for instance, is public and attached to your name, then you don’t have a leg to stand on when your comments pop up on popular blogs the next day a lá Gwyneth Paltrow.

As usual, I don’t have definitive answers, just a backpack full of questions. What say you, Student Affairs Women Talk Tech readers?

Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

One thought on “Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

  1. Lysa Salsbury says:

    At the U of I, we have a public hanging space that is frequently used for interactive displays of the “write your comment here” variety. More often than not, the opinions people pen are nauseating in the extreme–violent, aggressive, vitriolic, hateful–especially when, as you noted, the topic is social justice-oriented in theme. I don’t see the value in this type of anonymous commenting. There’s no discussion, no moderation, no accountability. The things people write don’t create dialogue, they just start an intense and pointless war of words. And often offend a great many folks into the bargain, too.

    Like

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