We have all seen it. You visit some web site that allows comments on articles or news stories. While you look through the comments you see one that is filled with foul language and basically bashes someone, offering no real discussion about the article itself. You check the sender, and it is something like Voldemort the Wizard.
I saw a new story concerning a major newspaper’s web site. They post most of their articles on line, and allow people to comment. Unlike Facebook, the individual commenting does not need to be registered with the web site, any on line presence can comment.
When I first started this blog, I allowed anyone to comment. Fortunately I did not receive the kind of offensive comments that a site like that receives. That said, I did receive a lot of spam and misdirecting comments. It was clear that the individuals commenting had not read the post. They simply used it as a means to get an advertisement out.
The newspaper is now considering restricting on line comments to folk who are registered with the web site, and that registration has to be conducted through Facebook, where a more human, traceable presence is available. Of course, once they made that announcement they received a host of vial comments, many laden with the idea of Free Speech.
Is anonymity a necessary part of Free Speech? I can understand the situation where an individual, speaking freely about something like poor working conditions, may be at risk for their job and livelihood. In such cases, speaking anonymously is a necessity for their own protection. However, there is a radically different quality here. Such speech has to be filled with valid arguments and a serious discussion. Otherwise, it is of no threat at all. If it were only an endless string of foul language and browbeating, it would not be a threat to the other side. The posting individual would have no need to be anonymous, with the exception of the fact that they might get fired for having a meaningless public tantrum, and as such, displaying a poor business appearance.
It seems to me that Free Speech means you are free to say what you feel. You do not, and should not, hide behind some mask. If you truly believe in what you are saying, and you are not being flatly offensive, slanderous or libelous, you are free to say it. Why hide? In fact, being open about it lends more credence to your statements.
Since the advent of the Internet, there has been a seemingly never ending string of vitriol spewed out by nameless, faceless on line presences. It seems that being able to hide one’s identity gives people license to do things they know they would get cut down for. Much like a criminal, a mask gives allowance to some people to do what they know is wrong.
I require registration on this blog in order for the user to comment. The user can be somewhat anonymous, which is to say, they can use any sort of user name they wish, even Voldemort. But they do have to have a valid email address, and as the Administrator, I know that email address. I, unlike that newspaper, have reserved the right to moderate comments, which includes editing them, not approving them, or deleting them. I think I have also made it clear that threatening, bashing style comments are simply not allowed.
But I do not think I have squashed Free Speech. If you have a point that can be made without a ton of four letter words, I encourage you to make it. Serious discussion is the only way for us all to learn and grow. Trolling, however, serves little purpose.