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An article about how anonymous internet gossip destroys lives in small towns by guest contributor, Leslie Parsley.
Mountain Grove, MO Town Square
In a revealing article for the New York Times, A. G. Sulzberger describes how Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous can destroy the heretofore peace and tranquility of small towns where “rumors stay forever.”
Take the town of Mountain Grove, MO where residents have moved from gossiping around a table reserved for the “Old Farts Club” at Dee’s Place to vicious rumors and personal attacks on Mountain Grove Forum, a social media Web site called Topix. A waitress, Phoebe Best, says the site has “provoked fights and caused divorces.” The owner calls Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.”
It’s the cook’s tale, however, that reveals just how sordid, ugly and vicious the gossip has become thanks to Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous. Shane James has every right in the world to be very angry and very tense. His wife, Jennifer, had been the target in a post titled “freak.” Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous “described the mother of two as, among other things, a ‘methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.’ Not a word was true, Mr and Ms. James said but the consequences were real enough.'”
The abuse and bullying that bloggers and large city dwellers have become accustomed to, and unfortunately engage in, on the Internet seems to have a more profound impact on the residents of small towns where “everybody knows everybody’s business.” Sulzberg writes, “. . . it often grates like steel wool in a small town where insults are not easily forgotten.”
Topix’s chief executive Chris Tolle acknowledged that the biggest problem they have is “keeping the conversation on the rails.” Yet, while defending it on free-speech grounds, he said “the comments are funny to read, make private gossip public, provide a platform for ‘people who have negative things to say and [get this] are better for business.”
Some friends, huh?
While Topix uses software to automatically screen out offensive content such as racial slurs, others such as “obvious libel” are removed only after people complain.
Sulzberg’s article brings up a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over for quite awhile. If people were required to use their real names, would they be less likely to go into attack mode? Would it tone down the rhetoric? Would they be more civil and courteous? Would they be less likely to lie? Would bullies be deterred from abusing and harassing others?
I’ve always felt that Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous were cowards, that if they couldn’t hide behind “Anonymous” or use screen names, most might behave more like members of a civilized society. Of course, there are those who simply don’t know how to “do,” regardless of the type of social gathering. They are the folks who arrive at parties already drunk and pee in the fireplace or vomit in the punch bowl or assault another guest.
Editor’s Note: To read more articles by the talented Leslie Parsley, visit her site, Parsley’s Pics.