Internet anonymity is costly to individuals, businesses, society

Recently I wrote a column on Indiana’s job growth during the past 20 years. In return, I was blessed with the following anonymous email:

Why do you write such stupid and biased articles. [Sic] Why not go back to 1924 and compare job growth. Your articles are insignificant because you are not balanced or fair in your evaluations. You are a political hack. Keep your eye on the pig!

This is not an uncommon communication from an irate reader. I have learned from such gems that appropriate punctuation is not necessary. Logic is a luxury. Rant is preferred to reason. Yet, I am delighted to know somebody is reading and responsive to the ideas advanced.

I do object to the absence of a name on an email. The email address is insufficient. If this person is so upset, why not stand forth? Let me know who you are. Don’t hide.

And while you’re at it, tell me where you read my work. Newspaper editors always want to know what columns are being read and what effect they have on community blood pressure.

Anonymity on the Internet is a growing, serious problem for businesses as well as individuals. Responsible citizens who have legitimate complaints should not hesitate to sign their names.

We’ve read of poison spread over the Internet that has led to teen suicides. We know also of slander from anonymous sources pretending to be doing political research. Likewise, unsupported, anonymous negative comments about restaurants, hotels and other businesses can very destructive and expensive to reverse.

This does not mean we should suppress criticism. If a restaurant is dirty, if a hotel is noisy, if a business is selling subpar goods, consumers want to know. But for a person to leave such a message, without a valid identity, is cowardly.

Websites gathering consumer evaluations should have a way to validate the legitimacy of those comments. At the same time, we, as consumers, must learn to discount both the extremely negative and the preposterously positive comments we read about various establishments. The former may be from a disgruntled ex-spouse, while the latter could be the owner’s mother trying to support her child’s business venture.

Some of my friends have clever email addresses. Others have cryptic combinations of letters and numbers. I don’t know why they hesitate to announce themselves to their readers.

At one time, folks would choose an email disguise because they feared someone might be able to use their names in a disturbing fashion. However, the widespread use of social networks has torn the veil of privacy and diminished personal security.

So, dear reader, if you do or don’t like what you read in this space, let me know. Contrary views, different sets of facts, and alternate interpretations are welcome.

Just be sure to sign your name, if you expect respect.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to