#CyberFLASH: Online anonymity is too precious to give up

Surveillance_610pxThere’s never any shortage of fodder for those who despise anonymous online commenting. Just last week, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama was barraged by hateful racism after unveiling his new Twitter handle, @POTUS. There were slurs and pictures of nooses and things even more disturbing – some of them cuckoo bananas enough that the typists received an in-person visit from the Secret Service.

Two weeks ago, in Canada, Shawn Simoes was fired from Hydro One after lobbing misogynist comments at CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt on camera. Online forums filled quickly with repulsive sexist garbage in his defence. The vitriol was so unsettling that more than one person in my personal Twitter opined that the only thing for responsible news outlets to do was to shut down all commenting entirely, forever.

“Play this game: go find any article on [the National Post website] about a woman. Read the comments,” argued illustrator and journalist Steve Murray (whom I find pretty smart, and very funny). For him, eradicating comments entirely is the only way for publications to show zero tolerance. “Why would any woman want to subject themselves to that?”

Allow me to speak for all women everywhere when I say: We don’t. I consider a thick skin a prerequisite for any career in the public eye, which includes most journalism. That doesn’t mean that the racist, sexist, nonsensical garbage often lobbed my way by hateful cowards is easy to deal with, or fair. But I don’t think that getting rid of online anonymity is the right solution.

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