Cyber-Anonymity and the Importance of Kindness

Running a website is a public job. What I mean by that is that as the publisher of I may not personally have to be front and center, but my brand always does. At least it does if it’s to be successful. The upsides of that are traffic and revenue and the ability to continue working until noon in my robe, if I so choose, and the occasional thanks.

The downside is that sometimes people are negative and I see any of their negativity that’s directed towards the site. I received this yesterday through the general contact email:

So I look up Chicago Christmas Tree Lots and find your page. To my surprise, there’s only one tree lot on the South side.
Again the ignorance of the North Side residents oblivious to the fact that there is a large city out there other than their own little neighborhood. Change your name from “Chicago’s Neighborhood Website” to “Chicago’s Neighborhoods with Arrogant, self-centered, snobs!

Does he have a point? Yes. So here’s my response:

I apologize for that perception. I’ve put out several requests for south side lots and done searches and haven’t received responses. If you know of any I’d be more than happy to add them to the map and to the post.

There was oh, so much more I wanted to say. I wanted to question if he had a bad day, or if he always attacked people like that, but I couldn’t be anything but diplomatic when responding as The Local Tourist.

The requirement of restraint got me thinking. If I could say what I wanted to people who attacked me, would I? Would I unleash the Kraken on people who hid behind the anonymity of pixels and spit out vituperative comments?

It’s tempting, to be sure. You don’t have to be a redheaded Irish Taurus to want to bandy about a few curses now and then at people who are too cowardly to present themselves. You also don’t have to be a publisher or a webmaster or a paid representative of a company to show a little restraint.

Being nasty and mean and venomous has become far too easy in our cyber-fied world. Leave an anonymous comment or create a fake profile and you can torture someone to no end with criticism, without offering credibility and without allowing any sense of recourse. There’s even a terminology for people who leave instigating negative comments on other sites for the purpose of being confrontational: trolls. Often it’s advisable to ignore them, but as a business responding in a restrained, courteous manner is often the only way to avoid a potential PR nightmare.

As TLT gets more traffic and users and as I open myself up here I’m seeing more and more of these trolls and it saddens me. I want to rip away the facade of anonymity and point out that when you post something nasty it hurts someone.

You don’t even have to be a troll to do damage. You can just be somebody that doesn’t know the somebody behind the website saying something you would never say to someone face to face. Of course, I don’t know if the guy who was so upset about the Christmas Tree Lot coverage would have talked to me that way if he met me on the street, but I doubt it. Not because I know anything about him but because I still have hope that most face to face interactions are civil, and when you have to see the hurt, pain or anger your words cause reflected it’s harder to get them out.

I know I’ve been guilty of it myself. When typing away it’s easy to forget that there’s a human being who’s reading what you’re writing. Now, when I have a situation where I’m not too happy with the company or person I’m contacting, before I hit “Submit” I stop, think, reread, and ask if what I’ve said is the best possible way to reach the other party. Would I say it the same way if we were face to face?

I love technology and everything it has brought and will bring us. In innumerable ways it’s a great connector that’s enabled conversations globally. Let’s all remember that conversations are what it’s about and every conversation, every statement you make could make somebody smile or could make somebody cry. It’s your decision which one it will be.

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