by Stephen Mayfield
Anyone who’s used the internet for a long enough period of time has more often than not interacted with a community consisting of other people using it the same way. When people see content, typically there’s a place nearby where they can comment and share their thoughts and opinions on what they just viewed. Short films on YouTube or Vimeo, an artist’s music on Soundcloud, even a journalist's personal blog updates now have the ability to be critiqued by anyone who views them.
The problem with this, though, is that literally ANYONE can contribute to the conversation, no matter how old they are or how much expertise they have concerning the content. People who come from completely different backgrounds and develop totally different mindsets can converse with each other without knowing anything about the person they’re interacting with. People who might normally never interact with those people are now exposed to their opinions, no matter how irrelevant, ignorant, or just plain wrong they are. The only form of identification of a person is their own self-created username.
The advantage to this anonymity on the web is that it allows for people’s honest opinions. Users can say what they’re genuinely feeling without worrying about suffering from the judgement pf people’s reactions in person. This form of expression is a near perfect archetype of the United States’ first amendment right to freedom of speech and press.
Sifting through comment after comment of spur-of-the-moment opinions eventually begins to wear a person down though, especially if someone sees something that they thought was cool, but is greeted with rows of short sentences from people who all thought it “sucked.” Some people reach a point where they just won’t read any comment section anywhere because they just don’t want to deal with the potential possibility of a flood of negativity.
Social media is one of the rare anomalies, however, concerning people’s anonymity. Facebook is a good example of people who want to be known and only interact with the people that they want to know them. The purpose of Facebook is for real people to connect with others they know in person (or know them well enough to have opinions about them). When you post and comment on Facebook, you’re talking about something in an environment where people who know who you are virtually all around you. This doesn’t stop arguments or negative comments from happening, but there’s a significant increase in the amount of judgement people use when they post about or respond to something. There’s a sense of accountability with social media doesn’t come easily with the rest of the web.
YouTube, the most popular video search engine in the world, has recognized the effect anonymity has their commenting system and has begun to combat it with the institution of it’s Google+ profile identity switch program. A registered user now has the opportunity to change their old display name for commenting and uploading from “butt_toucher_69” to Sam Sammison. The creativity of those on the internet never ceases to amaze, however, as once the oppurtunity was made available, people began to use names of celebrities and known fictional characters in place of their own full name to not only remain unknown, but to make jokes in the process.
The internet is growing in popularity as a new medium to produce content, especially when it comes to making music and video. People who create content on the web can get nearly instant feedback on their project and spark ideas on what direction to take with the next one. But until better methods are developed to make people accountable for their remarks, the risk of exposure to abrasive and inconclusive results will remain a possible hindrance.
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