With the popularity of the Internet came the rise of the use of aliases, and anonymous attacks using online comment systems and other social media platforms have become commonplace, even in Sonoma.
It is understandable that people would take advantage of aliases to advance a point of view or interest, or even just to stir the pot, but those seemingly unable to resist the siren song of social controversy, without commitment or owning their opinion, too often conceal their real identity. Many online comment platforms make it easy, and the ability to do it is tempting.
The advantages of using aliases weren’t invented yesterday; limited liability corporations exist expressly to hide identity and limit personal exposure. Large anonymous campaign contributions have long been tempting, and contribute to corruption; dark money comes in for partisan gain, at the behest of unknown billionaires. Here in Sonoma, mailers, lawsuits, and appeals have been generated by anonymous parties. Folks want local influence and the ability to shape policy, but don’t necessarily want everyone to know who is signing the check, whatever the issue or political persuasion.
It’s notable how nasty and insulting anonymous online comments can be in response to newspaper articles. People hiding behind aliases commonly feel liberated from social norms, which some then take as license for an abandonment of decorum. Such aggressors rarely have the courage to behave that way face-to-face. The recent spate of anonymous political attack mailers and a nasty local election make it clear that there is enmity in our community, yet the anonymous can sling mud online using aliases, then meet in the aisles of Sonoma Market and exchange pleasantries.
The Sun does not use the online Disqus commentary system because it too easily allows aliases. Disqus seems at times to be just a troll’s lair of brutish, acerbic, and sarcastic comments. At The Sun, we believe one’s identity needs to be visible, and going forward, that’s what our commenting system will require in order to use it.
For a species so exquisitely attuned to social cues, the ability to be a secret agent is almost too tempting to resist. And though it’s great sport trying to guess just who is who, what are we to make of this current spate of aliases and anonymous identities? On the one hand, aliases may be a harmless habit of entertainment. On the other hand, however, all the dark human motivations people have can surface all too easily through unchecked alternate social media identities. Libel, slander, defamation of character, and bullying are too often the currency of online comments.
Only certain people are called to playing the alias game, and if as a reader you don’t like the discourse online, you don’t have to look at it. The trouble is that aliases are peppered into a number of forms of social media, where people living real lives and using real names are represented as well.
Surreptitious Russian social media meddling in the 2016 election demonstrates that freedom of speech is risky when extended to unknown secret agents respecting no common decorum or accountability. It’s dangerous when discourse becomes degraded, and hiding behind an alias encourages just that. In our opinion, intentionally misrepresenting oneself with an alias is otherwise known as lying and cheating; frankly, if you want to express your opinion online, muster the courage to tell the world who you are or keep it to yourself.
— Sun Editorial Board