Anonymity and Accusation

Some of you will recognize that I am writing about something specific. I will say this, and I will say it once. This place is not the place to discuss what you think is true or not.

I want to talk about how we behave when others aren't "watching", I'm talking about the things we do and say when no one will find out who said them or did them. I have no interest in starting the conversation about truthiness, I want to talk about the problem of anonymity. I want to talk about what happens to a group of bloggers that I have always believed are sane and reasonable; kind and supportive and suddenly may not be.

For someone as into free speech as I am, it's perhaps a bit surprising that I don't allow anonymous comments. I don't and I won't. If you go back to the start, I tell you that I think my blog is like a living room. People don't walk into my living room and tell me that they think my couch is ugly, my dogs are badly behaved and what am I thinking wearing horizontal stripes when I'm fat. Or, they don't do it more than once.

Which makes what we all know we do on the way home even more bewildering. We would never say those things to someone, but we'll say them to our spouse - in the car, on the way home. We'll whisper them to our best friend. And we'll write them, anonymously on a blog. And I will stand up as a guilty party. For someone who does not always make the most brilliant fashion choices, I can be profoundly catty. Embarrassingly so. I've commented about your children who were having an off night, and I've suggested you were a terrible cook. I've said other, more horrible stuff. All because I knew you couldn't hear me. I will say lots of things when I don't have to look at you.

Oh, we all have a small, nasty and miserable part of us. We all have a part of us that doesn't want to help, wants nice neat answers, wants to be the centre of our own universe. We have a part of us that thinks we are just - ever so slightly - better than the person next to us, that we deserve just a bit more. Our kids are smarter, our husband is better looking, our house is nicer. We have a part of us that wants to see the world as a nice and safe place, and wants to assume that anyone in pain or distress somehow caused their distress.They deserved it, we reassure ourselves, and in so reassuring, we remove our obligation of help, or even just the debt of mercy owed.

And the small, mean parts of ourselves come to the surface, and if we don't control them, our thoughts become small and mean, and our thoughts can become words. The most terrible of all is when our words become our actions. As a practicing Christian, I name this tendency - Sin. We are all flawed, we are guilty of things done and left undone, to quote the words of the prayer book. Whatever your faith base, I think most of us are particularly aware that there are some "not nice" parts of the world. I think some of us call those behaviours what they are - evil and sinful. They are not the best of us, and they have no place in our lives. They are destructive and hurtful, and they diminish us as humans. We are less than the Children of God when we do this.

It so happens that I think anonymity is the bane of the internet. Take a reasonably moral person, add in the chance to feel a bit better than someone else, to give rise to their less sane, baser thoughts, and who among us would always be strong enough, moral enough, virtuous enough to not take that opening? Truthfully, I think none of us.

And so I return to what I don't allow. I don't allow anonymous comments on this blog. I won't give house room to the insanity that can come from anonymity. I won't be the person that hosts vitriol and invective and blind judgment, knowing that when there is no accountability, our less sane, more base selves often rule - our best selves disappearing. I won't give space to meanness. Either you put your name to it, you stand up and say what you think, what you believe, or you don't say it here. Because if you wouldn't say it if you had to sign your name, if you save up your comments, your thoughts for when you don't have to be accountable for them and you can hide behind anonymity, you aren't engaging in free speech.

You are engaging in cowardice.

And cowardice, and the situation that inspired this blog both make me want to vomit.