The inimitable Joe Konrath has weighed in on the petition the also inimitable Anne Rice has engaged in, asking Amazon to end the practice of permitting anonymous reviews. Rice aims to stop on-line bullying. Konrath rightfully points out that there are innocent, non-bullying reasons one might want to remain anonymous, such as writing a review of adult content without your child seeing it, or writing a review on a political topic without making yourself a target and so on.
These are all arguments I have seen before, and they are arguments I agree with. My ‘real name’ has a very identifiable spelling, and when I engage in activity online, I operate under a slight variation of it for exactly the reasons Konrath mentions. I don’t want every off-hand remark I make on-line to be traced back to me with one click. I have some hobbies—innocent ones, but still—that I keep online because they are very niche and most people in my ‘real’ life don’t care that much. I like being able to keep that stuff separate.
But Konrath ends his article—several somewhat over-the-top and blowhardish paragraphs later, but still—with a point I don’t often see people make in these debates:
“The only way to truly deal with [Mean People of the Internet] is to ignore them. Don’t engage. Ever. And teach your children about cyber etiquette and manners. It isn’t okay to try to hurt someone’s feelings, even if you’ll never meet that person in real life. I’ve never said anything online that I wouldn’t say in person, and I don’t post anonymously. But I defend peoples’ rights to be anonymous pinheads, even if I’m their target.”
I think that bit about education is the key here. I still know many adults—the teachers of the current children—who come from that long-ago time where the internet was a separate world and not a part of this one. My mom used to refer to my friends as ‘real friends’ or ‘internet friends’ like they were totally separate alien species. You know what cured her of that? Internet dating. Our rabbi met his wife online. I met the Beloved online, and I assure you that he is very real, and our home and family and life together is extremely real indeed.
So, Konrath is right. Some people are idiots, and that’s always been true. Most people aren’t though. And the few who are should not be allowed to ruin it for everybody else.