Stephen Isaac-WilsonWe rarely say what we think in public; employment restrictions, the fear of hurting people’s feelings and the protection of our public image prevents us from voicing what’s really on our mind. However, newspaper comment boards seem to be one of the few places were anonymity allows individuals to vent, also in the knowledge that thousands will view their thoughts.
With online being one of our most prominent sources of information, it comes as no surprise that public comment follows there. National papers can expect to see their online content receive anywhere from 600,000 to 5,000,000 plus browsers. All these news-seeking users carry their own perspective and thus comment boards grow. However, word on the street rarely matches up to online. In the month of November 2011, the Daily Mail Online, which has the largest number of views for a UK newspaper, drew in a total 84,977,460 users. However, the considering how liberal thinkers loathe it, the figure is rather surprising.
Likewise, public support for Tories can seem like a rarity and even a taboo; a stigma embedded from the days of Thatcher lingers over the party, despite the fact we still live under her consensus. We seem voice our most truthful views in the same way we vote, secretly.
Niceties are removed from online commentary leaving only raw opinion; comments are regularly taken down by newspaper operators and with warnings such as ‘we will consider removing any content that others might find extremely offensive or threatening’, I wonder if the culprits would voice the same views in public? With a quick look through the online papers, I found a high number of users with no picture and fake names. Even accounts recently posting on The Independent’s comment board have all expressed valid points, so why the need for anonymity?
Comment boards seem to act as diaries; there are intensively interactive platforms where commentators can ‘like’ and challenge entries making them far more accurate perceptions of British attitudes than opinion polls. However, diaries are private, and if made public normally get the owner into hot water with colleagues, friends and family. This is the philosophy behind the group Anonymous UK who claim to believe in ‘non-violent, peaceful civil disobedience’, they keep their identity secret in order to fully commit and spread their views on numerous issues including the Occupy Movement and the US congress Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Although I feel points made anonymously are slightly cowardly, (people should take note of the easiness of life in Ricky Gervais’ film, ‘The Invention of Lying’) it doesn’t make them any less valid.
Some may say that we express our views on the Internet via social media. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – they all act as ways to communicate with people we have a certain degree of separation from. However, faceless on these sites we are not; on Twitter our bios sum up who we are in the bid to entice future followers. Although we have freedom of speech, we sometimes don’t feel able to express it. Right from high profile celebrities to your average Joe, everyone on Twitter has something to lose. Be it future work or your current job, being misunderstood on the Microblogging site can be detrimental to one’s career as seen with the removal of Scottish Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan, actor Charlie Sheen’s fall from grace and Diane Abbott’s PR disaster.
Twitter mishaps are probably worse for those out of the public eye; these users don’t have spin-doctors and PR at the ready to fight their corner. Twitter user “theconner” found this out the hard way when she tweeted ‘”Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work”. The electronics company swiftly replied, “Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” So regrettably, the site can be just a very diluted and pre-approved version of public opinion- and of course a promotional tool/godsend for celebrities.
David Ben-Gurion, who was the first prime minister of Israel, said, “The test of democracy is freedom of criticism”, however, power to openly critique in modern society is limited. Although we can understand why a degree of censorship may be good for relations, it’s refreshing to think that there is somewhere where opinions are not curtailed or edited- even if they are harsh and aimed at you. With no more said, let the profanities commence.