This is an open letter from the Oakland Examiner for Societal Issues, to all the discriminating readers who have found lodeplus.com, and to the Web at large, in which the effects of the world wide web on the time-honored tradition of Letters to the Editor are lamented, as one of the last sanctuaries of polite conversation to be found in the wilds of modern society.
Here in Oakland, in the Bay Area at large, and all over the world, urban newspapers, large and small, have found a new home on the Web. In each of them, readers may comment on the articles they read, merely by registering a user name at the site; it doesn’t even have to be a real name, just a user name (thus making millions of words, both real and made-up, equivalent to “anonymous”). This has given opportunity to millions upon millions of people who have an opinion about what they’ve read to express that opinion almost immediately, and have that response, however egregious, posted on the site, an insidious trap for the unwary reader.
In researching a number of articles for new subject matter, it didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that this nearly universal anonymity has, in essence, realeased a demon among us, the dreaded Beast With No Manners, and it is already legion. Every repressed author and their alter ego is now free to foist upon unsuspecting readers all of their own most cherished prejudices and deep-seated bigotries, without suffering any immediate consequences.
It’s well documented that intelligent dialogue is possible, even essential to the process of democratic debate, and to engaging in productive discussion of issues important to society. What is less well documented is the degree to which serious discussion is being pushed aside and drowned out in the public’s consciousness, by the insistent clamoring of millions of voices, all of which are shouting out their personal peripheral issue, namely, expression of their own views to the exclusion of all others.
It’s also becoming increasingly common for both individuals and organizations to stoop to using heavy parabola, humor, innuendo, and outright prevarication in creating titles for news articles, exaggerating and puffing up the subject matter in a way designed to draw in a certain reading audience. Deception has become an indispensible tool in soliciting readership since the advent of the Web; it’s not limited to the tabloids anymore.
Initial examination of this issue indicates that this societal explosion of first-person proclamation in news-oriented media has reached endemic stage, and is rampant in every segment of society at large. Future examinations of this issue in this space will hopefully be able to report an improvement in the quality of discussion on the internet, a hoped-for revival of the common will to refuse to engage in, or listen to, deliberately ignorant proclamations by people who don’t have the courage to stand behind their convictions using their own name.