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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Growing Up in a World of Anonymous Comments

By Peter DeWitt — February 17, 2013 4 min read
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If people are so angry about something that they feel compelled to write about it they should try signing their name.

Recently, I read another story about the 19 teachers in Seattle who refused to give the MAP test. As with most stories, I planned to skip the comment section because I really just wanted to know how the story has progressed. Unfortunately, against my better judgment I scrolled down to look at a few of the comments. I really didn’t want to but a friend had posted the story on Facebook and one of their friends said, “Wow! Did you see the comments!” Just like rubbernecking on a highway, I couldn’t help but look. I wish I hadn’t.

We all read through news stories on-line, and every single news story has a comment section where readers can post their “thoughts” on the topic of the story. Sometimes people post words of support or try to provide an intelligent look at the issue. Other times, however, people will post comments of negativity as though they have nothing better to do than find the worst things they can say about the writer, the topic or society in general. These participants only use their first name or they use a pseudo name. It provides them with complete anonymity.

In days of old people may send a letter to the editor or a scathing anonymous letter to the person they had an issue with. These days it’s different. The sheer volume of anonymous comments posted after a news story is unbelievable. It’s like a pack mentality where one person inspires the next to write something more awful.

How it Affects Education
Unfortunately, we see a lot of these unsupportive thoughts directed toward stories about education. We read comments that teachers and administrators make too much money or don’t work full-time hours. Most of these comments come from individuals who do not work in the school system or have a beef with life in general. Their last memory of school is when they attended their high school.

All newspapers and on-line news outlets have a space for people to comment...or sound off and those who do comment hardly ever use their name because they want to protect their identity. Heaven forbid they actually use their own name. Unfortunately sound offs are usually targeting someone in the public eye, which means their name is used when the writer’s name isn’t.

• Why do so many people feel the need to rant without signing their name?
• What are they afraid of?
• Are they concerned that somehow they will be punished for having an opinion?

This does not just end with websites and news outlets either. Many surveys that are used by organizations and colleges are anonymous as well. It seems that we need anonymity to further a conversation. Perhaps people will not give their true and honest opinion unless they don’t have to sign their name to it which is unfortunate because their opinions may be worthwhile. They may miss out on the opportunity to sit on a committee or have a “place at the table.”

People seem to focus on Freedom of Speech a great deal. They scream how they have the right to say what they want, and then they go and do it anonymously. If we are so proud of our Freedom of Speech, shouldn’t we also be proud enough to add our names? I realize I am opening myself up for some interesting comments but I’m surprised that so many people don’t want to add their name to a “sound off” or “rant.” Is there something so concerning about their rants that they don’t want their friends or colleagues to know who they came from?

Student Concern
Overall, this has big implications for our students. We should be concerned that our students are growing up in a time when they are told they have a voice but need to say things anonymously to be heard. We should be additionally concerned that we are raising children in a time that seems to be so angry. Or is society not really any angrier? Is it just that there are more venues to express anger and concern? I feel like everyone needs a hug...

Whatever the answer, our children are hit with many negative messages as they make their way through the day. Whether it’s the billboards they see on their way to school or the conversations they hear at school or home. Additionally the countless news shows and television programs that focus on anger expose students to a great deal of negativity. It’s not healthy and they may take on the same type of negative attitudes.

We need to foster a better culture for caring. Paying it forward and passing it on. Students should learn that when they have a problem they should talk it out, not blast someone on Facebook or anonymously through a sound off or angry Tweet. We don’t always get everything we want but we should be able to meet in the middle without it coming to an angry anonymous rant. Students need to understand that the anonymous feedback they read on websites feels differently when it’s directed at them. Perhaps some adults should learn that as well.

Stand Up, Say Your Name
If people are so angry about something that they feel compelled to write about it they should try signing their name. Anything else does not help the cause, it just furthers the anger. Perhaps if people talked things out or used their real names, we would see a lot less anger posted on stories that are really supposed to further intelligent dialogue. That’s just my 2 cents.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.