This Martian Life: A Column
By SEAN WARDWELL
The Internet has been the great equalizer of our time. Never has there been such easy access to information. However, a drawback of this online world is its impersonal nature. It used to be if one got a letter, he knew who it came from. Putting thoughts on paper had a certain permanence, as well. People had to stand behind their words and bear the consequences that came from them.
Now, with online handles, pseudonyms, etc, things have absolutely changed.
We journalists don’t really get a lot of perquisites. Given our generally binary society, it’s virtually guaranteed one side will despise us while the other side generally tolerates us. Then they switch. However, the one thing we do have that nobody can take away is our byline, and we positively adore it.
The byline keeps us honest. It lets the public know a person wrote this and she stands behind it. Everyone likes recognition and credit, but, more than anything else, the byline seals information with personal reputation. That just can’t be bought.
Now, how would a serious story look if it were written by, say, RamblinMan161, or WildAngel22? There’s no weight to the words then. It doesn’t matter how compelling the work might be, or how right someone is. Without the possibility of measuring the information or the argument against a real name connected to a presumably real person or entity, I honestly have a difficult time taking it seriously.
There are some who wish to participate in online debate, but have a real fear of being outed due to legal or job related reasons. That I do understand, and most of the time, they at least have the courtesy of making up a respectable and mature sounding handle. This isn’t directed at them.
This is, however, directed at the anonymous, cowardly snipers. These armchair online warriors will laugh at the damage or hurt their words might cause, but not once have the courage or character to stand behind what they say in the full light of public scrutiny. They hide. They sulk. They stick to the shadows. To use an old Texan phrase, they’re all hat and no cattle.
What’s so difficult about using one’s own name? I’ve never been able to figure that out. If you’re right, you’re just right. Even if you’re wrong, at least you took a stand. The online pseudonym just makes good arguments less so, and bad arguments even more so.
Folks, if you have an opinion, stick by it. If you have an accusation, stand behind it. Use your name. Don’t be like those who can only be strong or clever in the dark. I know we live in a lawsuit happy culture, but truth is the best defense against libel. To use an old saw of reporters, sunshine is always the best disinfectant.
Of course, I can’t force anyone to do that, and this isn’t signaling a change in our comments policy. It’s just a hope, and a reasonable one at that.
On another note, this week is my last here at Newstreamz. I’m moving to Kansas next month so I can be closer to family. Specifically, I have a new nephew named Jude, and I really want to watch him grow up. Living in a place that doesn’t have good Tex-Mex just feels unnatural, but I suppose we all make sacrifices at one point or another.
It has been a privilege to help bring all of you the news, and I am thankful I was able to serve this community in this way. It’s also been a real joy working here at Newstreamz. I’ll miss this place, and I’ll miss San Marcos.
Take care of each other, and thank you.
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