Anonymity Isn’t The Problem, You Are

Excellent debunking of asking for real names to prevent abuse, usually thought to be the number one reason for people who behave badly on the interwebs.

I’ll let you read it. There, you done?

My Bad

I have had that opinion for a while, despite my evidence of the contrary. I come from a time when nicks, handles, and pseudonyms were the norm. I always had trouble writing under my own name or using anything but my handle for communication. Hell, even day to day, I use something that can be regarded as an alias : Zino. However, I never shied away from giving my real address, or phone number. It’s out there, you can find it fairly easily. I won’t pick up, mind you, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

As I read this article, I was thinking of why I don’t feel like using my name. It could be from the habit of using handles for most of my adult life, or because my name isn’t me. I very seldom turn around when someone actually uses my birth name.

So why did I assume other people who use handles to spout abuse were using it to hide their identity rather than out of comfort, like me?

Honestly, I have no idea. But I will try and stop to say that there are trolls on the internet more than anywhere else because internet promotes anonymity.

What Gives, Then?

Weeeeeeeeeeell. Not to get too political, but I tend to agree that we live in a post-facts world. The reasons and examples are well described in the article, but in a nutshell, the ‘web gives you an opportunity to voice your opinion more readily than any other medium. And opinions are increasingly considered as important as facts (if not more).

I have an opinion on curly braces position when I write my code. The fact is, it matters little to none for the compiler or the quality of the program in the end. It makes it more legible for me to have it a bit more compact, and if hard pressed on the topic, I can probably concede to the other style (while secretly still using mine, probably).

I have an opinion as to how public money (ie tax revenue) should be spent, and therefore a fairly strong opinion as to what the level of taxes should be. The only way I can turn it into facts, though, is to vote and convince others to vote like me.

Internet would allow me to select (or invent) facts to support my opinion and present a case that it should be everyone’s. Who’s going to fact-check me, or challenge my opinion? People with different opinions who will select a different set of facts, obviously.

The problem isn’t the anonymity, it’s the way you discuss things. Internet allows everyone to shout something to the world. Most people tend to forget that this amazing new way to exercice a right (yes, it’s a right) comes at a cost: the world can answer.

Trolls seek to elicit that answer by any means necessary, so I’ll just set them aside, we’ve always had them. People systematically playing Devil’s Advocate, or going for getting a rise for more personal reasons have always been around. We just didn’t hear them as much because they had to go through a bunch of filters (physical proximity, newspaper and tv editors, etc…).

But people who are convinced that their opinion is right have now the ability to express themselves. It’s up to us to remind them that everyone with the access they enjoy has the same right, and opinions not only can, but will, be challenged. If you can’t take it, your opinion is de facto useless.

So what’s that jibber-jabber about facts? Facts are supposed to be the thing that everyone agrees on. Then you use that fact to promote an opinion.

Example:

Facts:
– computer geeks have been mostly looked down on by society throughout their short history (cf almost every single movie and tv show)
– computer geeks are needed in every sector that functions better with a computer, due to the increasing complexity of computer systems
– computer geeks are human
– most humans require validation and recognition to function as part of a group

Opinion #1:
Computers, and by extension computer geeks, are not bringing anything new, they are just new tools to help creative people build new things. They should therefore be glad if they aren’t badly treated anymore, but not to the point of expecting the rock star treatment.

Opinion #2:
Now that computer geeks are needed pretty much everywhere, it’s time to take over the world and teach all these bullies who’s boss.

Opinion #3:
Computer geeks finally got the recognition for the intuition they had since forever: the computer did change the world. They deserve to be integrated in the society, as every other profession.

Facts support those 3 opinions, so why be surprised when your favorite geek exhibits any of them? They can even change their opinion in the middle of a sentence! None of those are facts, though. Facts are about what has been and what is. Opinions are about what should be. And what should be is by definition debatable. And debate is the single reason for the internet to exist.

But I’ll add another fact to the pile : I do not have to share my opinion, and neither do you. The simple fact that I do doesn’t make my opinion any more or less valid than it was before. It just subjects it to an open debate, and all the pros and cons of it.

I am of the opinion that sharing and discussing things is better than the alternative, but if you forcibly shut me up, it doesn’t make my opinion less valid. If you invalidate or complete the facts I am using to prop that opinion up, though…

For all of those who still have trouble differentiating the two, I suggest reading a bit of Plato. The guy was a mastermind at asking questions to test the opinions of others.

One last thing

An unverifiable opinion (something that is supported by too little facts) is called a belief. You basically replace some of the facts that you build your opinion on by other opinions. Opinions include taking an example (a highly selected example, most of the time) and promote it to a fact. These are OK to have, as long as no fact comes in contradiction to any of the opinions at the base of your reasoning.

For instance? I believe that the human race as a whole is compassionate, despite many proofs of the opposite. According to my previous paragraph, it should crumble, right?

Wrong. Because the core “leg” so to speak of that belief is that people who have done bad things can indeed change for the better. And there are examples, sure, but no fact supporting that claim. It’ll just have to stay a belief up until the point where we can definitely prove or disprove the notion of free will.

  

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