Alex Vorbau is a true believer of social technology. He uses social technology in all aspects of his daily life and his career, and he even focussed his work blog on Social Technology Innovation. But, he had a bad experience that made him question his beliefs. Take a look at his blog post on Thoughts on Anonymous Cowards. Alex started a legitimate web business with his wife. Someone out there decided that they didn’t like his business, so much that they decided that they would try to sabotage it. They used the very same social web technologies that Alex develops, but they used it against him, and, they hid behind the anonymity of the internet to do it. This really is an example of social web technology gone bad.
I love how social web technology gives everyone a voice. I love that people can publish information with the click of a button. I love that people can post comments, both positive and negative, about what they read. I love the rich world-wide user-generated information pool that social web technology creates. And, I love that I can contribute to it with my own comments and my own blog posts. But what do we do when people abuse the freedom that social web technology has given them?
The social web world is an amazing self-governed community, self-governed by writers and readers. If I am honest in my posts, I feel I am rewarded by appreciation from blog readers. If I am dishonest in my posts, I feel I will get corrected by the blog community. And, if I admit to and correct my errors, I feel the community will forgive me and allow me to rebuild my credibility. I think blogging teaches you to be open, honest, and thoughtful. While as a blogger I am open about my identity, I actually like the fact that blog readers can post comments anonymously, especially when it helps them be honest about something they feel deeply about and can’t express openly.
But what do you do when anonymity gets abused? What do you do when anonymous cowards attack well-meaning people?
Do we start developing social web technologies that don’t allow anonymity? Do we start developing tools that limit or inhibit information sharing? Do we start developing tools to police the abusers?
I can’t help think about the amount of social web innovation that is lost by attacking and demotivating well-meaning social web users and social web innovators. I wonder if the anonymous cowards realize the impact of what they are doing. What should we do?