Freedom of speech, freedom of anonymity, freedom to remain in the closet?

The Advocate‘s Website has been notorious for trolling in its comment threads: trolling for the folks who don’t keep up on the Inter-lingo (myself included) is when someone goes onto a comment thread and posts nasty, inflammatory, offensive or off-topic posts on purpose to derail the debate or to instigate some Inter-fighting. The Advocate‘s seemed rather vulnerable to this – anytime there was a story about blacks, Hispanics, trans-folks, women or Muslims, posters would join the threads and start dropping in terribly racist or transphobic comments – often just to get a rise out of the other readers. Unfortunately, many readers would respond to these posts in kind and before long, a prospective discussion on ENDA or DADT becomes two or three posters vollying insults and curses at each other.

Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of the LGBT publication announced that the comments would no longer be the standard “comment, enter a captcha ‘word’ and press enter.” Instead you’d be able to post a comment with your Facebook account, thereby announcing through your profile pic and your username ownership of your comment. Breen writes, “Web anonymity can foster brutality.”

I’m of two minds of this idea. On the one hand, I think it’s fantastic. For one thing it’s quick – I just put my comment in, uncheck the box so that my potential discussion doesn’t make it on my Facebook wall and voila I’m done. Before, I had to do the whole captcha thing, and often I had to make sure that I was writing down the fake word correctly (although someone told me you could pass a captcha code by writing something very close – I don’ t know, I’ve never tried). 

I do see the issues this would bring about regarding folks who are in the closet or who are in situations where announcing their identities could be detrimental to their safety. Unfortunately, Breen sort of glosses over these concerns by stating, ” I invariably come down on the side of openness.” He goes on to make a case for being out and ensuring that the “Internet closet” is junked. He doesn’t specifically address these concerns, aside form saying simply that there were discussions. And even though I agree with this move that The Advocate‘s making, I do think some consideration should be taken for the individuals who aren’t lucky enough to be out of the closet. Many aren’t as lucky as I – I live in a big, progressive city, have lots of accepting friends and work in a liberal environment.

Moving forward, those against this move will unfortunately have to just get used to it – or opt out of commenting. Breen’s plan will undoubtedly whittle down the traffic for comment threads – hopefully once people get a little more used to the idea, they’ll embrace it and then join in on the discussion. It’s interesting that the Internet’s still providing growing pains for a lot of its users.

I plan on continuing commenting on The Advocate whenever there’ s a subject that I find particularly interesting or provocative. I never posted anything I was ashamed to admit or own – I never indulged in hate speech or foul language, so I have nothing to hide in that respect. I only hope that this forum won’t discourage those who want to debate, whether they agree with me or not, to continue to do so.

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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction

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