Who ARE these people?!

Although I subscribe to a lot of periodicals, I get a lot of my news from online sources. Like many others, I sometimes look at the comments to see what people are saying in response to a particularly interesting news article or opinion piece.

And that’s when I start despairing about the state of public discourse and civility in the United States.

Who are these spiteful, resentful people? Is there one, small, secret club of them, made up of members who go around to various websites for the purpose of spreading their vitriol? Or do we really have this humongous population of haters who seem to live for the opportunity to post snide and angry comments whenever anyone says something that doesn’t strike their fancy?

Names, please

I agree with those who say that Facebook has it right: Requiring people to use their real names is one of the best ways to ensure a more civil dialogue.

I avoided Facebook for years in large part because I assumed it was full of the kind of snarky “dialogue” that has infected other huge chunks of the Internet. To my pleasant surprise, that has not been the case. I’ve found that most discussions are quite civil, even when people strongly disagree on hot button issues of the day.

Of course, I realize that the ability to remain anonymous online has contributed to positive social change. I wouldn’t want to eliminate the ability of oppressed people to use the Internet as an organizing tool, and sometimes that requires the ability to cloak one’s identify.

And I know from my work around workplace bullying and workers’ rights that posting comments anonymously can be a way to share important information or make a point worth making, without fear of losing one’s job.

But for the most part, posting a comment to a news article or op-ed piece is a very different thing. For ordinary exchanges on the Internet, we should encourage policies that require personal accountability. If someone wants to be a four-star jerk, he should do so under his own name.

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For those interested in promoting online civility, the interest group CiviliNation, started by my friend Andrea Weckerle, may be worth a good look. Go here to visit their website.

-David Yamada

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