What’s in a Name?

Amherst students like to be credited for their work. Many would be mortified if they neglected to put their name on an academic paper, and most would take offense if someone quoted their work without properly attributing it to them. It is ironic, then, that few display a similar possessiveness when writing online. Perhaps, the internet simply inspires a sort of altruism in students so they may feel compelled to share their wisdom without selflessly coveting recognition and acknowledgment. More likely than not, online anonymity provides an excuse to abdicate responsibility for one’s words.

A recent article published in AC Voice has generated 91 comments to date. While not all of the comments critical of the article were anonymous, the vast majority were. Many were little more than sardonic gibes that contributed nothing to the discussion. The reaction to the AC Voice article illustrated that when students are allowed to post anonymously, they do so irresponsibly.

Students should be accountable for their opinions, and anonymity is not conducive to productive dialogue. Anonymity makes it too easy indulge in self-gratifying vitriol. Everyone at the College is capable of articulating an intelligent argument, and when an online poster makes a sarcastic swipe at a writer without elaborating on our justifying their criticism, it is purely out of a lack of effort and consideration.

Some may argue the contrary, that anonymity can be beneficial because it protects online commenters from persecution and encourages a diversity of opinions. This is self-centered and egotistical, considering that the same writers, who commenters are only willing to criticize behind a veil of anonymity, did not hide behind anonymity when publishing their articles. Whenever a writer publishes an article with their name attached, they make themselves vulnerable to negative feedback; it is only fair that commenters reciprocate that generosity. The risk of criticism is inherent to any form of expression, and it is a risk that most students are already accustomed to. Whenever we submit a paper, we expose our ideas and ourselves to the possibility of criticism from our professors. Why can’t we extend a similar openness to our peers?

So what’s in name? A insightful argument is no less insightful, regardless of the name attached to it. But if someone is unwilling to back their point of view with their name, what good is backing their point with argument, no matter how well taken it may be? We urge students to refrain from abusing the anonymity of the internet, not to silence the nameless voices of internet, but to bring life to a conscious and conscientious dialogue.