Commenters are cowards

Dante Frattini

The power of communication is one of the human race’s greatest strengths. Thousands of years of evolution have granted us the gifts of language, writing and speech.

Now, with numerous technological advances, humans have increased the efficiency and speed in which they are able to communicate with friends and strangers alike. But at the same time, we also caused devolution in interpersonal skills.

Texting, email, instant messaging and more have all contributed to the depersonalization of interaction, but they alone are not responsible for the greater offense: the slow death of respectful human discourse.

I often email, text and instant message family members, friends and professors in a very respectful and proper manner.

But I know those people. Whether or not they like what I say, at least they know who is saying it.

Online, however, strangers are given the opportunity to contribute to ongoing conversations, or to inject their opinion on various works of creation, while remaining anonymous.

The ability to hide behind a proverbial curtain encourages those who would otherwise remain silent to speak with grandeur and authority, two qualities they likely lack in reality.

The act of appearing tough when there is absolutely no threat of consequence is one of the most blatant signs of cowardice. It’s easy to write a hate-filled, profanity-laden diatribe when you know you cannot be held accountable.

If websites are going to allow scathing and unproductive comments to remain posted, then they should at least require the authors to give their name. Even if it is just an account name or email address, it gives some identity and hopefully limits the amount of anonymity-fueled power trips that occur online.

Realistically though, the size and magnitude of the Internet severely impairs the abilities of regulation and policing.

It is not that criticism, feedback and insults aren’t expected.

Most artists and writers welcome criticism. Even in the world of blogs and message boards, which can be hardly considered forums for art, it is expected that comments of both praise and criticism will be submitted.

But what passes for criticism online is often not criticism at all, but spineless defamation.

In 23 years of living, I have received less than a handful of letters from secret admirers. In just a semester and a half of writing for this paper I have received at least five times that amount from secret readers who feel that I have no business doing what I am doing.

Perhaps they are right. I often question my ability, worth and future. But when I doubt myself, I understand why, and it is usually constructive. Same as when I am critiqued by an editor or a peer.

These types of criticisms allow people to grow; however, they are found in short supply on the Internet.

I recently heard someone say Las Vegas isn’t visited by actual people, but by the alter egos of those people.

I think the Internet is basically a much larger, digital Las Vegas.

Visitors routinely lose their conscience, moral compass and lots of money. But if asked, prior to their trip, whether they would wish for that to happen, the overwhelming majority would say no. And rightly so.

So why do people in these two realms consistently act in ways they, themselves, deem undesirable?

Because by way of lax regulations, these two unique environments encourage what is elsewhere considered unacceptable human behavior.

But away from these places, reality still exists. And it is a place where actions generate consequences, respect is rewarded and the cowardly are either the quietest or the loudest, but never the greatest.

Everyone, including the cowardly, should have the right to freedom of speech. And the victims of verbal attacks should have the right to know who is attacking them, and be able to respond accordingly.

It is unreasonable for people responding to an idea to believe they are immune from whatever reaction they incite. Rarely are people afforded the chance to give monologues.

Human expression is a two-way street.

The news that is delivered in the dark of night is much more likely to be bad than good. And while this kind of “bad” is nothing compared with the atrocities on the nightly news, it is also subject to a much simpler solution.

A little common decency.

Or have we devolved that from our DNA as well?

Dante Frattini can be reached at [email protected]