I count myself among those that spend many hours on-line every day. The political groups that I follow include those of all the main local political parties. My membership does not mean that I am blindly loyal to any one particular political party. Simply put, I respect, and I enjoy understanding varying points of view.
The concept of engaging in idea exchanges dispassionately is familiar to some but strange to others. To help create an environment better suited to idea exchanges, one of the more forward-thinking groups last week decided to update its policy. A message from the moderator noted that “After a barrage of attacks and libelous posts, we will not allow any aliases in posting messages to our groups. Use your name. It is unfair to others for you to hide behind aliases. If you can’t use your name, then your opinion is not worth anything.”
His message went on to say that “If you may be wondering why one or more of your posts are not published, it could be because of one or more of the following: actual or potential libel, personal attacks, infringing SOE policy, ALL CAPS, …one-liner retorts that do not add value to the discussion, personal feuds, blatant PR (promo, brown-nosing, paid bloggers) or offensive”.
I applaud this initiative. I remember one Facebook group, someone challenging a user who hid behind an alias while expressing a political point of view. This user was called a “weakling” and a “coward” for not having the courage to support their stated opinions by using their real names openly. I myself recently read an interesting post or comment on the Guardian website, but the user preferred an alias. I felt sad because I wanted to engage this person on some salient points raised but was unsure whether they intended to engage in nation-building discussion or simply fulfill a quota needed to keep their $300 and a free laptop?
Surely this policy of asking for real names needs to be adopted by even more moderators. A couple of months back, I wrote about this phenomenon, often referred to as Trolling. What exactly are Trolls? An article from November 2010 on the New York Times website defined Trolling as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory, or provocative messages in public forums and is a problem as old as the Internet itself. However, its roots go much farther back. Apparently, in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges. That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he could not be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure. Without accountability for our actions, we would all behave unjustly.
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According to the same New York Times article, psychological research has proven that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Online, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced and even ordinary, good people, can often change their behavior in radical ways. There is a term for it: the online disinhibition effect. Returning to our local online groups, I applaud this “no aliases” policy, despite the fact that enforcement would nearly impossible (remember Janice Thomas?). The one exception to the “no aliases” policy should be for whistleblowers who use aliases to expose corrupt cases of extreme incompetence (especially in public funds). Corruption needs secrecy and shadows to survive and the light of transparency is its greatest nightmare.
Back to politics, there are three sensitive areas in which I would like to see more dispassionate dialogue both online and offline. Firstly, why not engage with the comment on the UK Foreign Office website about the Vision 2020 initiative playing a role in us now being ranked as a developed country by the OECD’s DAC list? Secondly, regardless of who said it, is anyone else concerned about the way in which the security intelligence agency was treated, the way in which technology that was meant to protect the nations’ borders was politicized, the $2 million in drugs hidden among car parts last September, and the $34.6 million in drugs hidden among chicken parts in another container? Thirdly, under which of the 3 provisions of Section 8 (1) (2) of our constitution is the SoE still being sustained?
My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and my region. Despite the challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in our future. I value your feedback, but I would prefer that you use your real n unless you are a whistleblower.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can reach me as well at email@example.com.