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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

The Internet, Where Anonymous Commenters Get To Be Virtual Drones

Calum Hayes |
February 25, 2013 | 9:29 p.m. PST


Too often, people leave anonymous comments on online publications. (Screenshot)
Too often, people leave anonymous comments on online publications. (Screenshot)
In an ever-more interconnected world, it only seems right that the two things on my mind today link together ever so perfectly. The first of these is the rise in notoriety given to United States drone practices; the second is the rise of anonymous commenters on Internet message boards.

In recent weeks, we have seen a growing outrage directed at President Obama and the state department over the president's use of drones here in the United States. The policy allows the president to use drone technology to monitor (or hunt down, depending on your news source) citizens suspected of being involved with terrorist groups, and without any congressional oversight.

Think of what a drone does. Think of how it sweeps into any given location unnoticed. Think of how it has no direct accountability for what is about to happen, and then think about it dropping bombs on anyone our president deems deserving, without any warning or necessary justification.

Now, think of what an anonymous commenter does. Think of how they log on to any message board, how they drop bombs on unsuspecting authors without any warning or necessary justification. It is easy to be outraged at the thought of killing potentially innocent citizens (our own included), but it is long past the time we should have begun to express outrage at the death of integrity.

Look at any comment section under an article or story on the Internet, and you will find individuals too scared to attach their name to a comment tearing the author down. The internet has created a world with no accountability, a world in which we each have the opportunity to anonymously drop bombs on other people - and a world in which far too many of us seize that opportunity with both hands.

Recently, the Miami Herald made the decision to ban anonymous comments, becoming the latest in a long line of news sources to do so. The reason for the Herald's (and others') decision is clear: online news media try to promote conversation on a particular topic, conversation poisoned by individuals coming in and saying the most sensationalist thing possible, simply because there is no accountability involved.

The Internet has created a world of which our grandparents would be ashamed, if they knew how to use the Internet in the first place. Imagine Churchill, Hemingway and Twain receiving anonymous comments; imagine their reactions if they could see what the world has become for journalists and authors. It is far too easy to throw stones when you don’t have to attach your name to your thoughts.

There is a button at the bottom of every column by me that allows you to send me an email; it is something that all major websites include for their contributors. While I can count the number of times someone has taken advantage of that on two hands, I can say that their disagreements have always been far more eloquent than those of anonymous commenters on the bottom of the page.

I have read over and over from my favorite authors and journalists that they refuse to read the comments section; that they only read letters and emails that people take the time to write out. We live in a world that has made it easier than ever to connect with other people; but we also live in a world that has forgotten that authors and journalists are, in fact, still people, even if you only view them as an incorrect opinion.

I am well aware that if irony has its way, this column will receive more anonymous comments than anything else I have ever published. I am well aware that we seem to be fighting a losing battle. However, like those citizens who refuse to idly accept a drone program accountable to one man and one man only, I refuse to idly accept a world that has forgotten the meaning of integrity, respect and accountability. Bring on the bombs.


Reach Contributor Calum Hayes here; follow him here.


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Anonymous (not verified) on February 26, 2013 2:13 PM

The author obviously knows nothing of the history of his own country or how anonymous speech was fundamental to its founding. Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin would be shocked and appalled at his ignorance and his casual disregard of one of the most sacred of American rights, for without anonymous speech there would have been no 'Common Sense' or 'Silence Doogooder'. There is a reason that court after court and judge after judge have consistently upheld the right to anonymous free speech, especially in the press, and the author of this hitpiece should read up on those cases lest he find himself on the side of history It's not the anonymous commenters who are afraid, it's the corporate owned newspapers and blogs who are; they're afraid of the uncomfortable truths an anonymous commenter or whistleblower can reveal.

Not Really Anonymous (not verified) on February 25, 2013 10:41 PM

Haters gonna hate.

Frank L. (not verified) on February 25, 2013 10:00 PM

Anonymos speech has downsides, highlight in this article, and upsides, as totally ignored in this one sided opinion piece.

Jordan (not verified) on February 27, 2013 5:03 AM

Why yes, the point of this OPINION piece is for the author to voice his OPINION, so I commend you on your wonderfully astute observation.

Frank L. (not verified) on February 25, 2013 10:00 PM

Anonymos speech has downsides, highlight in this article, and upsides, as totally ignored in this one sided opinion piece.