In Plato’s Republic, one of the characters of the dialog mentions the legend of the ring of Gyges. The ring of Gyges was found by a man named Gyges in the kingdom of Lydia. It had the power to make anyone who wore it completely invisible. Gyges used the ring to commit a series of crimes and ultimately murdered the king and usurped his throne. Socrates and the other characters then go on to discuss whether any man would behave justly if they could be absolutely certain of not being caught.
We don’t have a ring of Gyges. No one can become invisible. But, we do have something almost as good, the Internet. On the Internet one can act with complete anonymity. You can post opinions on forums and website commentaries and no one need know anything about you., So, what are the results?
In any Internet forum of any kind, there seems an almost irresistible temptation for some people to, well, be jerks. They post insults, stupid comments unrelated to the subject being discussed and generally act in a way they would be ashamed to act with people in the real world. As more and more of this sort of troll infests a forum, the decent people tend to leave, and above a certain threshold, the forum becomes a sewer of ad hominem attacks and personal invective.
Right Wing News is a blog I like to visit often. It’s owner, John Hawkins, and the other writers usually have something interesting to say. The comments section has, however, started to become a sewer. Recently one regular poster revealed the real world address and phone number of one of the more obnoxious trolls and practically invited people to harass him. He was immediately banned, and rightly so. Now, John Hawkins is belatedly putting moderators in charge of the comments.
I really don’t know what to do about this problem. It doesn’t say much for human nature that so many people act like jerks when no one knows who they are.