Monday, March 04, 2013

Incivil Order

As a Psuedonym-American I get nervous anytime that people start calling for Real Names as the catch-all answer for online incivility. For some reason people think that if people had to sign their names to online comments all will be sunlight and rainbows. Now as anyone who has waded into a Facebook political discussion, this is risible. And this assumes that people think that everybody on Facebook is a real person. Facebook has one billion users. And I'm three of them.

The latest person to wade into this morass in a attempt to drain the swamp only to find himself up to his ass in alligators is Patrick Pexton, the outgoing and final ombudsman for the Washington Post. In his valedictory he says this:
I think The Post should move, as the Miami Herald did recently, away from anonymous responses to a system that requires commenters to use their real names and to sign in via Facebook. It would reduce the volume of comments but raise the level of discussion and help preserve The Post’s brand.
This caught the attention of Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish who used that as a jumping off point for this piece:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

If you didn't blink you may have caught a pithy comment by yours truly. Here is the full unedited tirade of mine: 
 It's not the anonymity that creates the bile. It's the inadequate and ineffective moderation. Where standards are fairly and uniformly enforced people behave themselves.

Requiring 'real' identities (and many of us have long traceable histories under our online identities) of people only enables cyberstalkers and other malicious elements. 
 And since I just got quoted on MSNBC, I'm a little glad I do use an online alias. I have been a member of several online communities over the years and the key is engagement and reinforcement. When people genuinely talk to each other rather than at each other, hostility tends to evaporate. And it works whether people use their 'real' name or not.

As for how to eliminate the rancor on WaPo, there is little a massive purge wouldn't solve. I'm talking Biblical deluge. The system is broken and I am actually looking forward to the cleansing effect a paywall might have even though I am likely to lose a lot of good imaginary friends in the flood.

I am reminded of a saying that goes: 
If you take a barrel of sewage and add a teaspoon of wine, you get a barrel of sewage; if you take a barrel of wine and add a teaspoon of sewage, you get a barrel of sewage. 
And there is no shortage of sewage in the series of pipes that form the internet. It takes a lot of work to keep the wine unsullied. But it can be done without infringing on people's privacy and anonymity.

1 comment:

The Pup said...


Not sewage, just contaminated wine.
Which is a good rock band name, come to think of it.

The standard for allowable coliform bacteria is zero, assuming you mean untreated sewage. Such contaminated wine would be junked.

But would coliform bacteria survive a barrel of wine?

The flavonols in wine are shown to have have a protective effect on gut microflora.

Of course, a high enough alcohol content will kill any bacteria, so a barrel of Black Velvet whiskey, for example, is still undrinkably foul even with a tablespoonful of sewage in it.

So if the metaphor had been about Black Velvet whiskey, it would have been wrong.