I recently discovered that a Christian web magazine has been posting my weekly columns without asking for permission. A reporter seems to have been visiting our church website, selecting columns he likes, and posting them on that site. Since I am acquainted with the reporter, I decided to let it slide.
Browsing through that site, I noted that one person posts negative comments whenever my columns appear. He seems to know me and our church, and is critical of my book, “Now You Know Me,” a selection of my weekly columns. I left a comment, trying to explain that the book was published not to promote myself but to introduce me to our church visitors, but it had no effect. He continues to post negative comments whenever my column is posted.
In general, comments on websites tend to be negative like this.
A couple in our church, who both received PhDs from MIT, were recruited as faculty members by a recently founded provincial college in Korea. After some thought, they decided to accept the invitation. They were written about in a Korean periodical, where they were praised for their sacrifice in cutting their salaries and giving up their permanent visa status to work for the college. However, the online comments to this article were not all favorable. The couple told me that they were afraid of reading them because so many were negative and sarcastic. (“What’s the big deal in giving up a permanent visa?” one comment said.)
On the web, people can post comments using false names. Other people don’t know who they are. So they can say harsh or irresponsible things with impunity, and it seems to bring out the worst in them. Extremely negative online comments have driven some Korean entertainers to suicide.
When people hide behind a mask of anonymity, they can speak as irresponsibly and groundlessly as they want, because there are no repercussions to them. So when I receive anonymous letters, I throw them away unopened.
It’s desirable in democracies to provide forums where people can express themselves freely. The web can be such a forum. But the danger is that they can also provide opportunities for demagogues to incite the public with false information and lead public opinion astray. I know that some organizations in Korea even hire people to post comments on the web and sway public opinion in their favor.
Anyone can post on our church website. There are no restrictions. But our message board has remained clean and positive. The main reason for this is that we’ve eliminated anonymity by requiring people to use their real names to post.
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