Thursday, September 01, 2011

Anonymice and Malice

In more proof that being rich or powerful doesn't mean you're always right or smart, see who's afraid of anonymous blog posts and comments, as well as handles for social-media accounts.

Today's John Gapper Financial Times column wraps it up clearly, with one major oversight. He cites Google Chair Eric Schmidt and former Facebook Marketing Director Randi Zuckerberg. The latter was strongest with simply, "I think anonymity on the internet has to go away."

It is indubitable that tolls, anonymice and fake-name commenters on blogs, social-media and MSM sites are obnoxious...and cowardly. As an online omnivore and a blogger who's had plenty of nasty comments, particularly on this marriage-equality blog, I understand. However, I moderate all my blogs and find deleting the haters' and spammers' comments a small price for encouraging dialog.

In the FT, Gapper notes that Google and Facebook have the right to set policies for their sites. In the case of Google+ this extends to the inanity of forbidding users with legal single-name identities. That's crazy beyond Schmidt's claim to beat back bullies, spammers and such. Users can decide whether they'll put up with anal retentive, irrational restrictions. Much as there is no mandate that you travel by air, it's just that if you do, you know you can get frisked and roughed up by TSA types or even worse. Your choice, pilgrim.

Gapper's grasp does not include the underlying motivations. Those raging at or terrified of web users without strong identities (easily verifiable and traceable ones) have serious ambiguity issues. They think differently from most people and a few of them are in a position to affect the options for and behaviors of millions of us.

Ambiguity scholar David Wilkerson has studied this extensively, published on it, and even has a keen breakout of four leadership styles related to it. These comprisej:
  • Mode One - Technical Leadership. These leaders usually deal with ambiguity by denial or creating their own certainty. They are also more dictatorial and are very risk averse by nature.
  • Mode Two - Cooperative Leadership. The aim of mode two leaders is to disambiguate uncertainty and to build teams around them to mitigate risk.
  • Mode Three - Collaborative Leadership. Mode three leaders have a tendency towards consensual methods of leadership. They prefer to work towards aligning team members values and getting agreement. Their approach to ambiguity is for the group to examine it.
  • Mode Four - Generative Leadership. These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity. They tend to be inveterate learners and innovators.
You likely know people who fall clearly into such categorical descriptions, and may recognize yourself. Understanding these distinctions should blunt the drive by all but Mode One sorts to force their fear of ambiguity on others.

The many of us who are more flexible (see related rant on Harrumph) continue to roll with and analyze what we read online. Strong identity will not stop haters, scammers and spammers. They've been using easily faked email and other identity from the beginning of the WWW.

Instead, as Gapper calls for, we need to avoid expanding the policy choices of Mode One types to the whole net. Sure people can decide whether they'll go with new Google+ restrictions, but they have that choice. Likewise, they should be free to choose whether to read and judge a blog post or comment or other online opinion on its own. Some of us can handle it..


DairyStateDad said...

What about anonymous campaign contributions? (see the recent New Yorker feature on Clarence & Ginni Thomas...)

massmarrier said...

Well, Citizens United is absurd on the face of it and in practice. If I could buy into the fantasy that money is free speech, I might go for it. No thanks.