Thursday, February 09, 2006

You Can't Do That In Here!: Anonymity, Transparency, and the Snark

Is snarky blogging just a reflection of the world outside the box--or is there something else that propels it? And what do we really think of transparent snarkers? Jay Small, a veteran newspaper guy who's resume lists a boatload of interactive/internet experience, uses what's going on at and Newsvine to make some important observations regarding snarkiness in on-line communities:
Real online communities, however, wind up being even dirtier than real world communities. I know some "citizen media" advocates say we should get used to bad behavior, because Web worlds simply mirror reality. They don't. They're worse, because the risks for bad behavior online are minor compared to the risks for similar behavior face-to-face.....

...Online, far too many people speak up only for self-interests, and those interests are often not relevant to the rest of the community. People become insulting, argumentative and even hateful, hiding behind flimsy user profiles and virtual reputations they're more than willing to sacrifice to the altar of the flame.

It's very easy to be anonymous and be negative--and to give the impression that you are just calling it as you see it. In fact, it seems that we often like people who are anonymously nasty and snarky--never needing to retract their words. Anonymity actually guarantees that they need not retract their words. Anonymity can even garner some notoriety and popularity--there is some entertainment value in the anonymous snark and it is rewarded (note
Jolie in NYC and David Lat of Underneath Their Robes, not to mention Wonkette, Snappy the Clam, etc.)

Yet we don't necessarily like it when we know the snarkers. When the snarkers are transparent, the snarker has to make sure that everyone knows he/she is only joking...

Take a look at Mark Cuban's snark on Phil Jackson. Jackson apparently made some comments in the press about Cuban, and Cuban is responding on his blog in a major snarkback. The snarkback has a certain entertainment value--on top of being Cuban's way of responding to Jackson. Cuban, however, employs a great strategy with this concluding comment:
Of course I don't truly believe that I own Phil. This is all tongue in cheek, but that won't prevent me from walking up to him and saying “Boo” to see if he jumps, just to find out for sure :)

Cuban knows the consequences of being transparent and snarking--and must make sure his snark is understood to be only a joke. If it wasn't, he might lose face with the public--be considered a "nasty man" or a "sore sport" or any other term we can think of. Jackson-worshippers would come out of the woodwork and load his blog with lots and lots of "you should apologize to Phil" comments.

If he were anonymous, and blogged in the third person, he wouldn't have to do anything beyond the snark--and some people might just appreciate it, thinking "man! that guy's really got Jackson's number!"

See the difference??

Yet can we demand that everyone who wants to be snarky must be transparent--when the anonymity almost guarantees a certain entertainment value? Can we even demand that everyone who participates in on-line communities must be transparent? If internet communities ask participants to be transparent in order to participate, they risk hearing the "free speech" comments and the fear-of-government-censorship comments--even when what the individual intends to post has nothing to do with the kind of speech that would justify fearing any censorship.

It's not censorship that people fear--they actually fear not being popular. If their only means to popularity is to snark, then they will do it in a manner that will not have any consequences--by being anonymous.

Because nobody wants to be unpopular and lose face with their peers. We all know that one from high school.

Think about it.

, , , , ,

No comments: