Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ignore The Anonymous

Bloggers - how often do you get anonymous and abusive comments posted on your blogs? And to the rest of you - how many times have you read an article or blog post and found a nasty comment posted by "Anon"?

Those kinds of comments, I've learned, are called "trolls". Fitting really.
read about this on the New York times website, after the article (written by one of their own staff) was shared by Facebook.

It's an excellent piece (which reveals some truly horrendous stories) and it reminded me that I have wanted to write a blog post of my own on this subject, after witnessing these kinds of comments on some of my favourite, highly-respected blogs.

Trolls are easy to spot. As soon as you come across an aggressively rude, no-holds-barred comment, you can almost guarantee it will have been posted under a pseudonym or (imaginatively) "Anon". I'll read the comment, look to the poster name, and that's usually when I'll roll my eyes and think, "Ahhh of course. Loser."

It ticks me off, not because of what has been said, but because of the anonymity of it. The fact that the is person is hiding and taking no responsibility for what they've said.

It harks back to the age-old retort, "If you've got something to say, say it to my face."

It seems that when you can hide behind online anonymity, you can get away with being unsociably rude or just plain mean. There's that tantalizing freedom of being able to manipulate complete strangers, speak your harshest views and hurt people, without repercussions. Basically, you can be an asshole without people thinking you're an asshole in real life. You can have your bitchy cake and eat it too.

It's a shame, because anonymity is helpful in many ways, and it also allows people to share experiences, advice and stories which are helpful or positive, but which they may not have shared without that invisible armour. We need the option to remain anonymous because - to a huge extent - it allows us to protect ourselves... but it also protects the trolls. So "Anon" has now become the pen name for bullies who want to have their say but are too cowardly to admit to it.

The way I see it, if someone has such a strong opinion about something, then why won't they stand by that opinion? If you believe in something so much, why not claim ownership of your words? I'll tell you why - because these people are either cowards who are scared of repercussions, or they actually just don't have confidence in their own opinion.

Either way, it's the same reason: fear. Fear of people disagreeing with them. Fear of backlash. Fear of being disliked. Fear of being found out.

I have had people disagree with my views on this blog, but I'm delighted to say that, to date, everyone who has expressed their views has taken ownership of them, which gives me the opportunity to consider their points in a reasonable way. (I know I don't post often, but readers, I appreciate that!) At the end of the day I would much prefer someone to wholeheartedly disagree with my perspective and open up a debate than to attack my views from behind a pseudonym.

Not that I'd be bothered if they did. The simple truth is, anonymous comments don't deserve any acknowledgement, because they have no foundation. Nothing to support them. They're posted in fear, and there's nobody real there to back them up.

So if you come across a troll comment in future, just laugh and remember those words were posted by some gutless little person at their computer, who doesn't believe the words enough themselves to actually represent them.

And to the real people posting real comments out there, in agreement or otherwise - I salute you.


  1. While agreeing with the overall thesis of your post/position, I'd say that anonymity in comments is sometimes deemed necessary, particularly in certain situations where the honest expression of one's opinion (say, while commenting upon a blog post) may bring swift or delayed professional retribution, not from the original poster or even other commentors, but from third-party readers - of the said comments - the likes of which are not unknown.

    That's one hell of a run-on sentence! But you get my drift.

    Not all 'fear of being found out' is unwarranted or untenable. This is especially true for situations, workplaces, even countries, where 'freedom of expression' is a mere concept not embraced.

    [Sorry for removing the earlier post. There was a grammatical error :( I forgot that once posted, Blogger doesn't allow comment editing]

  2. Great article, Claire! To me, it's one of the downsides of printing on the internet- the removal of editorial control. Anonymity allows people to express baser impulses such as jealousy, frustration in one's own life, deep-held prejudices that social norms normally prevent one from expressing. This has always been a part of the human tendency, but without an editor to say, "This is not fit to print," as with a letter to the editor, they can just put it up for all to see. That's not to say, however, that editors don't have their biases, just that they keep the discourse to at least a certain level of decency.

    What scares me even more is how dehumanized the original article or blogpost author becomes for these anonymous commenters. The author is not seen as a human being expressing their point of view so much as a dumping ground on which anon commenters can project any frustration. It can be downright scary sometimes!

  3. Hi SUIRAUQA, thanks for your comment! I absolutely agree with your points. I briefly touched on this in my post, emphasising the importance of anonymity to protect us when genuinely necessary.

    However, what I am talking about in this case is the kind of comment post which is NOT necessary - when someone is abusive, unkind or personally attacking. I've seen bloggers receive some awful comments which are of no use to anyone, except maybe to amuse or satisfy the cruelty of the person who posted them.

    Anonymity is useful, but the downside is that it also offers an invisible space from where bullies and immature blog readers can hurl their abuse.

  4. I agree with your frustration about trolls, but I don't think it is necessarily anonymity or pseudonymity itself that is the problem. It's the way people abuse it and the way in which we still seem to have to learn and redefine manners and social mores when online. I blog under a pseudonym because I don't want everything I say to be searchable under my own name by search engines whose algorithms and methods of prioritisation I cannot control (see Most of my friends know my pseudonym and I don't mind that. Admittedly, anonymity and pseudonyms cause their share of problems. But we should be careful of granting hostages to fortune when discussing them, lest some bright spark uses this as a reason to demand that all online activity should be tied to real life identity.

  5. Hi Matron, thanks for your comment. Again, just reiterating that I don't think the problem is anonymity. The problem is, as you say, people abusing it. I don't think anonymity should be removed, my post is to discuss the fact that people who write abusive comments on blogs and websites under "Anon" are cowards. x

    Leah - Thanks so much, very well put! Absolutely spot on about people being able to express jealousy, frustration and prejudices anonymously, and that blog comments become a dumping ground for those views. Spot on. x

  6. Love the last comment by the way :P
    Anonymity online is a powerful tool and that article in the NY Times is spot on, it's like road rage "I'm in my car, no one can touch me, I shall morph into a disgusting monster right now".
    One thing may be freedom of speech, but when this freedom allows insults and bullying the freedom excuse goes out of the window.

    Youtube commenting is full of hatred-fueled statements more often than not. I often don't scroll down to read other people's opinions as some individuals let loose and it's truly unpleasant.

    Every bully is a coward. The sad thing is that it is always the good people who have to suffer them. I really liked reading this post.

  7. @FashionLimbo - Thanks hun, and you're so right about YouTube - it's where Trolls seem to congregate!

    @Anonymous - Hahaha! Very good.