Among the many wonders of the internet, one of the most characteristic is the contrast between story and reader. With anonymous comments seemingly straight-forward and inoffensive stories can turn into lightning rods for misogyny, antagonism, and ad hominem slurs. The internet has provided a tool for nameless and faceless curmudgeons to see their own thoughts printed right alongside an original story, offering a sliver of the same immortalizing a writer experiences whenever they hit the publish button.
Jen Doll writing in The Atlantic defends the practice of anonymous internet hate-bait in the face of a recent New York State Legislature bill that would require any New York based site to remove anonymous comments unless the commenter agrees to attach her or his name to a it.
It may be counterintuitive to those who don’t spend their waking hours on the Internet, but a mean Internet commenter can be a thing of great joy. Sometimes, they make you laugh. It’s like your own personal roast, or, they’re so very mad, you feel weirdly amazed with yourself for making them so. Sometimes, they remind you that you are but a character to them, not real at all—and that can be both empowering and humbling. Sometimes, their words bring a crowd of kind commenters to your defense (that is the best). And whether or not we realize it, sometimes we miss them when they’re gone. It can be lonely out here. Say something, anything. Also: O’Mara and Conte: You don’t have to read the comments if you don’t want to.
Having received an overabundance of cruel and dismissive comments over the years, I agree with Doll wholeheartedly. It’s still shocking to be called names and have weeks of work swept away with an imperial curse word and a sneer, but there’s something pervesely reassuring about the anger and indifference. The inability to interact with the media truths we were expected to accept created an overly serious belief in what was being claimed. It turned newspapers and magazines and books into irrefutable machines of truth, that could either be accepted or ignored.
On the internet all claims are subject to interrogation, and all claims have to fight for the attention of their audience. Allowing anonymous comments is only ever a reminder of how unknowably strange the audience really is. And any censoring of that fact can only take us backward.