Anonymous comment in Revelstoke

When it comes to superpowers, anonymity is the worst.

Trolls come in many forms, often on online forums such as The Stoke List.

By Katie Marti

When I was in the second grade, I wrote a love letter to Gregor Barry and signed it “Your Secrete Admirror.”

In addition to a clever word scramble (I voel uoy), it included the clichéd questionnaire: Do you love me? Yes/No/Maybe. While I am proud of this early initiative and my ambitious approach to matters of the heart, there were some obvious tactical flaws.

For one, we had known each other since we were actual babies, so it was a little late for maybes. If he didn’t love me after seven years of playing in the same neighbourhood gang, it was doubtful we would make it very far as a couple.

At this point, it should really have been a straight yes/no. More importantly, however, I had sent the letter anonymously. For all he knew, our teacher, Mrs. Brownell, was his Secrete Admirror.

Anonymous means no recognition. Photo: From Flickr
Anonymous means no recognition. Photo: From Flickr

So, while I was feeling empowered in my ability to acknowledge my crush without fear of exposure, the whole point of writing the letter was to determine if Gregor loved me as much as I loved him in the hopes that we could ignore each other at recess and eventually get married.

Too late, I came to the realization that this was impossible because he had no idea it was me popping the question. The veil of anonymity which gave me the confidence and strength to make my move in the first place wound up being the very thing that prevented me from having everything I’d ever wanted which, at age seven, was apparently a skinny, bucktoothed boy whose mom picked out his outfits every morning so that his polo shirt matched his socks. #lifelessons

This is why I’ve come to believe that of all the superpowers, invisibility is the worst. I’ll admit it would be helpful in some situations, like avoiding small talk at the grocery store or watching unlimited free movies, but as far as secret weapons go it’s pretty lame.

Your strength lies squarely in the fact that nobody knows what you’re up to, so even if you do something very, very awesome, you will never get the credit.

Before I could even count by tens I had learned that nothing good ever comes from acting anonymously. At best, it’s a recipe for lifelong resentment. At worst, it opens the door to a world of unrestricted impulses.

The Internet has spawned an entire population of people with the power to be invisible. They are the trolls in the comments section of a post or article, the nicknamed avatars who say things in print they would never say in person.

The Internet is full of anonymous postings. Photo: From Flickr
The Internet is full of anonymous postings. Photo: From Flickr

We see their words and feel their effects, but the people behind the insults and rants are largely unknown. Not even our beloved Stoke List is immune.

At any given moment there are nasty, negative posts about dog owners, cyclists, local politics, etc. made by members of our community who choose not to attach their name to their opinion.

The result is oftentimes a collective tirade in the virtual public eye for which nobody is held accountable. We no longer have to choose our words carefully or look into each other’s eyes when we speak.

We smile and nod as we pass each other on the greenbelt, then go home and sit behind a computer screen to tell each other how we really feel. Fewer bloody noses, sure, but is it not a cheaper blow to strike without fear of retaliation?

CBC has recently changed their commenting policy to ban pseudonyms, requiring that users attach their real name to any comments made in response to online content.

Their privacy policy also states that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish comments in whole or in part, in any manner they choose. Other news organizations such as the Toronto Star have opted to ban comments entirely, due to the negative tone their forums frequently took.

Our own online news outlets all require some sort of login before posting comments. The message is clear: if you don’t have anything nice to say, fine. But own it.

On the other hand, maybe there is value in unfettered dialogue. The issues, while they can be divisive, unite us as a community because we all share the same fence, though we may sit on opposite sides.

The Stoke List and other public forums are a fantastic idea, in theory, and the ability to post without consequence encourages all of us to speak our minds, which is tough to argue against.

Ultimately, I think most would rather have more chatter than less, even if it is peppered with hot tempers and off-side remarks. The question then becomes one of priorities. What do we value more: enabling public discourse or encouraging responsible dialogue?

The truth of the matter is that invisibility, like every other superpower, is a myth. Even behind a fake photo and a made-up name we are not nearly as anonymous as we think we are.

The moderators of our online sites know who we are and what we’re posting, and so do the folks at either end of the creeper spectrum, from cops and watchdogs to hackers and thieves.

At any moment, the lights could come up and our true identities revealed. This, too, I learned in the second grade when Mrs. Barry found my note in the pocket of Gregor’s pants when she was doing the laundry.

I had not signed my name, but I had written the note on a piece of stationary from the place where my dad worked. Busted. She graciously gave the note to my mom, who kept it along with every other embarrassing/adorable thing I ever made, and it has become a weird little family heirloom.

At the time, I didn’t have the courage to ask if Gregor knew who sent the note. I preferred to hide behind my alias, Secrete Admirror, and went to school the next day like nothing had happened.

We ignored each other at recess and eventually he got married. Looking back, I don’t regret a thing. It never would have worked out between the two of us for obvious reasons (the socks).

What’s more, I learned a valuable lesson that I think applies in today’s world even more than it did in the second grade: when sharing your most passionate thoughts and feelings, always be proud enough to sign your own name.

This story was first published in the September Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine — distributed all around Revelstoke.