Posts tagged ‘forum’

February 17, 2011

Anonymonsters

By now, you should know I have mixed feelings about anonymity. While beneficial in certain situations (therapy, support groups, etc.), it also creates an environment that encourages people to become their worst passive aggressive selves.

After reading “Deindividuation“, a post on the “You Are Not So Smart” blog, I’m convinced it’s the root of all evil (mild hyperbole). The post contains anecdotes about people who were contemplating suicide (from the top of a building) and who made that fatal jump after being encouraged to do so by a crowd. Very disturbing. Who in their right mind would do something like that? Answer: You and me.

According to the author:

The risk of a spontaneous cheering section goading a person into killing themselves is high when people in a group feel anonymous and are annoyed or angry. It only takes one person to get the crowd going. Those are the three ingredients – anonymity, group size and arousal. If you lose your sense of self, feel the power of a crowd and then get slammed by a powerful cue from the environment – your individuality may evaporate.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the streets and takes place online as well. You’re probably familiar with the story of the girl who offed herself after being taunted by online bullies.

The more anonymity a user is allowed, the more powerful the effect of being protected by the group. (…) your identity can spring a leak in the presence of others, and the more others there are, the more you dissolve into the collective will of the group. Looting, rioting, lynchings, beating, war, chasing a monster with torches – the switch is always there, and it doesn’t take much to flip it.

Very depressing.

The post does give a small glimmer of hope though: all this energy could potentially be harnessed for the greater good by making people feel “safe from judgment” and by providing “prosocial cues”. I’d really like to know what a prosocial cue looks like to begin with, especially in the online world. According to Wikipedia,

Prosocial behavior is caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them, and acting in ways that benefit others.

That’s all fine and dandy but how does that stand a chance when online society is governed by incredibly strong forces such as Godwin’s Law?

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches. In other words, Godwin put forth the hyperbolic observation that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope— someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.

(If you don’t believe this statement, I suggest you go spend some time in the comments section of the Austin American Statesman.)

I really don’t mean to be a cynic. I just think that, unless you live in a country where freedom of speech is repressed (sorry ACLU activists, the United States is NOT China or Syria), you should own up to your thoughts and opinions.

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May 3, 2010

Loophole: closed

I am all caught up on Lost and am happy to announce my return to Full Internet Bliss – I fib you not!

During the past 3 months or so, my husband and I religiously watched a couple of Lost episodes every night so we could see the show finale at the same time as everyone else. As a consequence, we had to limit our internet browsing experience in order NOT to fall prey to any spoilers. John survived that pretty well, but that was TORTURE to me. One of the things I enjoy most in life on the Internet is participating in forum discussions about things that interest me. Not being able to read the theories random strangers had about this or that episode felt very limiting.

To me, an experience isn’t 100% fun or fulfilling if I don’t get to communicate, compare and contrast it with others. After I got back from Japan 5 months ago, I spent hours reading about the journeys of other people who traveled there and looking at their photos. When I started playing the mbira, I searched for more people online who share this passion. All this multiplies the effects of the experience.

Some people told me they think I’m an exhibitionist or a show off because of the things I post online, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I used to write a personal blog before this one, on the now defunct journalspace.com. In the four years I blogged there, I met new people whose presence migrated from the comment box to being my wedding guests. I was also exposed to opposing views of the world that completely blew my mind.  I also learned to navigate the Web like a fish in water. I 0wned the place, man.

It’s simple, the key to opening yourself up to new experiences, people, ideas is to put all of yourself out there – there’s no room for compromise. Those who choose to be more discreet claiming they’re modest are  just afraid of their untapped potential.

April 27, 2010

Anonymonstrous

Is anonymity a cloak under which people can hide to say what they really mean? Or does it empower people to be really mean?

This Web site, www.betterme.com, seems to think you won’t get the constructive criticism you deserve unless your coworker’s identity is kept secret. We also have a mechanism at work that allows staff to ask questions anonymously and read the answers later when they’re posted to our Intranet.

I have mixed feelings about this. Keep in mind that I am only speaking about anonymity in the workplace and not online support groups where anonymity is key to a successful healing process.

Based on my experience, at least 80% of the anonymous communication online amounts to junk. A lot of people use the anonymous tool we have at work to tattle on their coworkers or complain about stupid things like the quality of the soap in the restrooms. I’ve also experienced the chatter than goes on in online forums and chat rooms where people use anonymity to deceive or harass their peers.

However, good things can also happen when the messengers feel safe expressing themselves knowing their identity is protected. In some instances, at work, staff were able to suggest changes to some managerial practices. In another situation, someone felt comfortable enough to report an ethical conflict of interest they witnessed. Had we not had this anonymous tool, who knows if these issues would have surfaced.

So should we take a leap of faith and assume the quality of workplace communication would improve if people posted under their real name? Or should we weed through all the junk to ensure we don’t miss out on what those who won’t speak out loud have to say?

We chose the second option but with the added twist of placing some restrictions on the 80% crowd of time-wasters. Inspired by this BNET article, we will no longer consider anonymous online complaints unless the messenger offers at least 1 solution to the problem.