Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Thoughts on a petty version of Le Corbeau

I'm far from the first person to consider the downside of Internet anonymity, but a recent post to a blog I came across a couple of days ago has brought the subject to mind, so you get to hear me vent.

I'm not going to name the blog or link to it, because I think the person behind it would love nothing more, and I don't want to gratify him or her with more traffic. You see, I don't know if it's a he or a she, because if you want to hide your identity on the Web, going genderless is apparently the next step after devising what you believe to be a catchy pseudonym. This person wants us to think It (so much more fitting in this case than s/he) is a professional in the business of the mystery genre. An important It, It wants you to know, too important to be named, here to share insights with the great unwashed, but from behind a curtain. Where's Toto when you need him?

There are some cases in which I can see the reason for shielding one's identity. Consequences in the workplace are one. If you're living under an oppressive regime, by all means, save your life and liberty with a pen name.

Even if someone wants to offer advice without making specifics about his life known to everyone with a Dell, fine by me. One hopes against hope that readers of such a site will be cautious about anonymously given advice, since they really don't know if it's being given to them by a con artist or a benevolent expert. Caveat everybody.

I've seen some anonymous advice blogs handled well, and they have this in common: they are never used to insult people who then won't know who just attacked them.

Anonymity used to escape a more personal level of responsibility, used as a shield to allow one to be uncivil or otherwise behave badly is never praiseworthy.

What bothered me about this blog was that the anonymous It seems to enjoy sending a kind of modern version of a poison pen letter. (Not to be confused in any way with the mystery press and bookstore, by the way!)

Here's what bothered me: A point that could have been made otherwise (easily!) comes off instead as a thinly veiled way to stir the pot, to make trouble. An author (not me) and her work are disparaged, a load of names that will increase traffic to the blog are dropped, and in the end we know nothing of the person making the remarks other than what It claims to be true about Itself.

Maybe there's a special place in hell where certain people burn without ever having any idea who sent them there. I have a feeling they'll discover a high percentage of anonymous bloggers in that neighborhood.

The mystery writing community is a relatively small town, on the whole supportive and friendly. Sewing seeds of mistrust there is helpful to no one. We can do without this corbeau.

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