The title quote is from Robert Fisk writing in The Independent (London) on 10 January. Anonymous comments, gutless trolls, and why it's time we all stop drinking this digital poison - Comment - Voices - The Independent
For a moment, after reading the first paragraph of the article, I thought he was talking about p.ie in particular.
Fisk reports that an Irish TD committed suicide because of a rash of online hate-mail:
I did read a bit of the thread about McEntee's death on p.ie but I did not know the reason for it.Just before Christmas, an Irish minister of state, Shane McEntee, committed suicide after receiving a swath of online hate-mail. At his funeral, his brother Gerry was applauded when he attacked social media: “Shame on you people, you faceless cowards who sent him horrible messages on the website and on text, shame on you.” Shane McEntee had been particularly condemned for defending government cuts to Ireland’s respite care programme and, anyway, I’m not sure that anonymous emails kill. Newspapers persecute people, too, but at least editors have an address.
Fisk is arguing for non-anonymous comment on the Internet. He thinks "moderators" are useless:
Fisk mentions that both the French and Irish governments are considering new legislation against Internet abuse, the French in particular against some Twitter abuse that is racist, anti-semitic and homophobic, but Twitter won't reveal the identities of some of the culprits to the French because they posted from California. Fisk also mentions the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 - but not which country's. Presumably it is UK law because he is writing for The Independent. So that legislation won't apply to malicious abusers in other countries.Chat rooms and comment sections of online newspapers often claim to have a “moderator” – a craven expression since it suggests that the abused and the abuser are equally guilty or innocent – who can remove “inappropriate” material. This is a bit like saying that Hitler could sometimes make “inappropriate” remarks. Indeed, reading a book over Christmas about the Nazi rise to power in Germany, I found that many NSDAP (Nazi party) threats in the thirties did read like web insults.
So what to do? Online comments are often factually wrong, but anonymity allows writers to use vulgar and abusive language to support their lies. They often fail what has been called “the quality test” – rigorously applied, for example, when newspaper editors refuse to publish letters without a name and some form of address. We are talking about verifiable comment.
Do you think there needs to be international uniform legislation to counter web abuse? This could be a solution, but almost impossible to implement. Even to start the process imho there will be great difficulties to get agreement between different countries and blocs.
As for anonymity, I am in favour of it still even though I agree with Fisk that it can be taken advantage of by malicious posters. Our anonymity may be short-lived, however, and then what will happen to politics.ie and similar websites?