Anonymous web comments should have signatures

Kelly Hotard

What would you do if you knew you would get away with it?

The rise of the unnamed and anonymous in our generation’s pop culture provides some pretty disturbing answers to that question.

It seems a day never passes by without hearing of some new form of cyber-bullying (Truth Box applications), spamming or digital voyeurism (Omegle).

The skyrocketing rate of cybercrimes is due, in large part, to the Internet’s stranglehold on our daily lives. How many of us can remember how we wasted the majority of our free time before the age of social networking sites and online forums? I’ve tried, and failed, to remember those days.

The Internet also affords this incredible ability to say whatever we please, to whomever we please, without fear of repercussion. In other words, it is the freedom of speech and press.

Sound familiar?

It should: It’s our First Amendment right.

One would think that in America, the land of the free and home of the brave, most people would proudly exercise this right to publish their views, speak their minds and defend their beliefs.

But a curious phenomenon befalls people when given a blank comment box and the chance to check “Anonymous.”

Inhibitions vanish along with the nerve it takes to attach a name to one’s own opinion. As a result, honesty and the courage of conviction also crumble. People under the influence of anonymity say things they would never admit in everyday life. The damage this lack of accountability does to our public discourse is crippling.

I’m talking to you, A. Nonny Mouse, and all your immature, similarly named cousins who have infested online news forums, including

Newspapers try to report the truth and stimulate thoughtful conversations among readers, concepts the Internet format only discourages. One must question the validity of everything that is said, not to mention who is saying it, and no online source comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Of course, every mass communication major realizes the importance of anonymity and “protecting one’s sources,” as all journalists are instructed to do in some sensitive situations.

But choosing to remain anonymous while broadcasting one’s opinion is cowardly and contradictory. Essentially, the message anonymous comments send is: “I don’t mind telling you what I think, as long as you don’t know I think it.”

The inability to know whom you’re really communicating with online makes a genuine, civil dialogue impossible. The effect of anonymous complaining is, well, ineffective when it comes to solving problems and making a difference.

Thankfully, most newspapers require full contact details when readers submit letters to the editor. Some websites even place a flashy “medal of honor” next to members who dare to use their real names; a commendable, but sad measure.

When did such a straightforward action become so rare? To truly stand up for what you believe in is a noble cause that also means dealing with the consequences, whatever they may be. If it’s your heartfelt opinion, own up to it.

To paraphrase a common Facebook quote (coined, no doubt, by “Anonymous”): In a digital realm where you can be anything, be yourself.

Readers, I’m bringing honesty back. Or at least that is my goal as a columnist. I realize when it comes to what is “popular” in our culture, my views are not likely to match the majority of yours.

But I will be candid to you in what I have to say, and in turn, that is what I expect from you. Read each future column with an open mind and by all means leave comments. If you like it, even, perhaps especially if you don’t, be sure to put a name on it.

Kelly Hotard is a columnist for the Daily Reveille at Louisianna State University and a guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.