Don’t let online anonymous commenters get you down

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Every now and then I still hear someone complaining about anonymous people posting on social media. Usually in the political world.

I get it.

Someone you don’t know, and almost certainly will never know, is taking potshots at you, perhaps your family, friends, your ideas; and the potshots often come in vile language attributing to you the absolute worst motives.

If these same anonymous people were face-to-face with you in a public forum, assuming they would have the spine to face you in a public forum, odds are they would do so using much different language. Maybe not. Maybe they would be as obnoxious in public as they are online. But either way, you two would be on equal footing to debate issues.

And in public settings, vile and obnoxious almost never wins over an undecided audience. Bad manners can also flip audience members who were initially on the side of the vile, obnoxious person.

But I also date back to the early 1990s when the internet was a new alternative to sharing public opinion, political and otherwise, when the only longstanding games in town were newspapers, magazines (letters to the editor, guest columns), tv, and talk radio.

Personally, the only downside to radio, tv, and print media (aka old media) was frequency of use. That is, most people were limited in the number of times, and the length of time, they could have letters published, or speak on air.

The internet changed all that. When I first started the online public forum, As Maine Goes, in the early ‘90s, I was using the immediacy and accessibility of the internet, while hanging on to the best practices of the old media. Anyone, anywhere, with a computer and internet could post on AMG every day, around the clock.

But just because someone could post their thoughts on AMG didn’t mean they should. I used to tell the few people who insisted on using four-letter words, “If you can’t get certain words published in the local newspaper, or on a call-in talk show — what makes you think it’s okay to publish them online?” Gresham’s Law of economics says, “Bad money drives out good money.” I had a variation on that for online posting: “Bad posters drive out good posters.”

Perhaps in its third year, AMG was growing in readership, registered users, and influence. And there was no automatic word censor, no review of posts before publishing. We had a terrific group of posters of varying political stripes. Most posters, not all of them, used “handles” or “nicknames.” That is, most registered AMGers were “anonymous posters.”

I said before that the problem is not with the anonymity of posters. The lingering problem for some people, with some anonymous posters, is, in a nutshell: bad behavior, cowardice, rudeness.

Fortunately, websites, blogs, and social media, have made available excellent filters we, as users, can tailor to our needs. From no filtering, to limiting access to only individuals of our choosing. I have a blog, and I follow (subscribe) to a few other blogs. I use my Facebook and Twitter accounts in the same fashion.

Good old-fashioned common sense still applies to modern telecommunications. “Don’t invite trouble.” “Let sleeping dogs lie.” “Don’t poke the bear,” and “We become like the people we associate with, and the books we read.”

I would rather encourage the majority of good people engaging online in useful dialogue, than waste a moment arguing with some rogue wearing a virtual paper bag over his head.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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