All sorts of chewy fact-bits here. Maria Konnikova, in the New Yorker:
Several weeks ago, on September 24th, Popular Science announced that it would banish comments from its Web site. The editors argued that Internet comments, particularly anonymous ones, undermine the integrity of science and lead to a culture of aggression and mockery that hinders substantive discourse. “Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story,” wrote the online-content director Suzanne LaBarre, citing a recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as evidence. While it’s tempting to blame the Internet, incendiary rhetoric has long been a mainstay of public discourse. Cicero, for one, openly called Mark Antony a “public prostitute,” concluding, “but let us say no more of your profligacy and debauchery.” What, then, has changed with the advent of online comments?
Anonymity, for one thing. According to a September Pew poll, a quarter of Internet users have posted comments anonymously. As the age of a user decreases, his reluctance to link a real name with an online remark increases; forty per cent of people in the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-old demographic have posted anonymously. One of the most common critiques of online comments cites a disconnect between the commenter’s identity and what he is saying, a phenomenon that the psychologist John Suler memorably termed the “online disinhibition effect.” … When Arthur Santana, a communications professor at the University of Houston, analyzed nine hundred randomly chosen user comments on articles about immigration, half from newspapers that allowed anonymous postings, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle, and half from ones that didn’t, including USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, he discovered that anonymity made a perceptible difference: a full fifty-three per cent of anonymous commenters were uncivil, as opposed to twenty-nine per cent of registered, non-anonymous commenters. Anonymity, Santana concluded, encouraged incivility.
On the other hand, anonymity has also been shown to encourage participation; by promoting a greater sense of community identity, users don’t have to worry about standing out individually… In a study that examined student learning, the psychologists Ina Blau and Avner Caspi found that, while face-to-face interactions tended to provide greater satisfaction, in anonymous settings participation and risk-taking flourished.
Anonymous forums can also be remarkably self-regulating: we tend to discount anonymous or pseudonymous comments to a much larger degree than commentary from other, more easily identifiable sources…
Two sidebars about the local commentor-sphere. Sometime this morning, according to Sitemeter, Balloon Juice broke 100,000,000 “visits”. According to someone who knows much more about this than I do, “Google thinks that about a million visits came from about 150K unique people. So if that ratio of visits to visitors holds up, which is just a guess, 15 milllion visitors will have made 100 million visits to B-J when the sitemeter ticks over. I doubt it scales exactly like that but certainly the number of unique visitors is well into the millions…” So… congratulations? (Further metadata, BJ currently averages 40k visits every day — somewhat fewer between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon — barring breaking news.)
Second, many thanks to Matt McIrvin for introducing me to the “Law of Jante“, a concept I have often talked about but didn’t know existed as a trope in its Scandinavian homeland. Jante’s Shield: You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us. The Eleventh Law, or Penal Code of Jante: Maybe you don’t think I know a few things about you?
Truly, there is a spirit linking all small, semi-closed communities… even the virtural ones!