Paul Carr (formerly of the Guardian, now of TechCrunch and the Telegraph) has long railed against the anonymous trolls of the comments section. In a recent column he dug up posthumous intellectual support for his argument, quoting a passage from Schopenhauer’s The Art of Literature on the evils of anonymity:
“Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and journalistic rascality. It is a practice which must be completely stopped. Every article, even in a newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of its author; and the editor should be made strictly responsible for the accuracy of the signature.”
…and so on and so forth. Carr is implying that anonymity is rubbish therefore anonymous comments are also rubbish. Belatedly, here’s why I disagree.
We’re still in the early stages; idiocy is inevitable
It’s a general rule of life – and therefore, the internet – that when you like something you tell 3 people, and when you don’t like something you tell 10. When open, anonymous comment sections started appearing all over the web, it gave the latter the latter a platform for their anger. You could immediately add your tuppence to the thoughts of esteemed writers, and your comment would be tied to their thoughts forever more. Suddenly, the Chapel of High Thought was democratized. Brilliant.
The same, of course, goes for the idiots. Open comments allows them to immediately associate their faceless idiocy with a piece of wonderful critique, and it would be there forever more. Mr or Mrs Big Columnist could write a seminal essay in the intricacies of fiscal stimulus, and the first comment, forever more, could read “yeah, but tax is just a load of willy, and so are you.”
This is very annoying, and certainly not what the internet democratisers intended. And one can understand Carr’s annoyance… it’s a modern interpretation of a schoolground foible: if you want to say something about me, what not say it to my face (in comment land; with a face)?