Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dennis Prager: John Doe, the Internet Hatemonger

FrontPage Magazine
Sexual images and prose for the purpose of sexual titillation are not new. But the ability of anyone in society to debase public discourse is new. Until the Internet, in the public's best known venue for self-expression -- letters to the editor published in newspapers and magazines -- people either expressed themselves in a civilized manner or they were not published. And overwhelmingly, even those letters that were not published were written in a respectful manner because the letter-writers had to reveal their real names and their addresses (though only names and cities were published).

Being identifiable breeds responsibility; anonymity breeds irresponsibility.

That is why people -- even generally decent people -- tend to act so much less morally when in a crowd (the crowd renders them anonymous). That is why people tend to act more decently when they walk around with their names printed on a nametag. That is why people act more rudely when in their cars -- they cannot be identified as they could outside of their car. There is no question but that most people would write very different entries on the Internet if their names were printed alongside their submission.

E-mail provides another example. It is the very rare individual who sends a hate-filled, obscenity-laced e-mail that includes his name.
The Internet practice of giving everyone the ability to express himself anonymously for millions to read has debased public discourse. Cursing, ad hominem attacks and/or the utter absence of logic characterize a large percentage of many websites' "comments" sections. And because people tend to do what society says it is OK to do, many people, especially younger people, are coming to view such primitive forms of self-expression as acceptable.

Some might argue that anonymity enables people to more freely express their thoughts. But this is not true. Anonymity only enables people to more freely express their feelings. Anonymity values feelings over thought, and immediate expression over thoughtful reflection.

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