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Before Caller ID, people could make prank calls with impunity. You picked a name at random from the phone book (remember those?) called them and said anything you wanted. The only way you could be caught was from an extensive police investigation. They would only initiate an investigation if there had been ongoing threats of violence or mentions of other illegal activity. Caller ID and *69 pretty much did away with most prank calls except those made from a “burner” cell phone, purchased for cash at a convenience store with no video surveillance. (Odd how I know those details.)
Today, Internet message boards that allow anonymous posters have created a perfect atmosphere for prank or venomous posts. I always wondered why a multi-billion dollar company like QVC maintained one of those boards. When I left back in 2001, the negative posters had a field day. I was accused of being everything from a sex offender to a serial killer. Their posts started showing up in Internet searches and had the potential to impact my post-QVC career. When I asked QVC to eliminate them, they said they did not interfere with the free speech of their customers.
I couldn’t believe a company that large totally misunderstood The First Amendment which states the government can’t impose limits of speech. Companies and individuals can limit anything written or said on an Internet site or in a publication they maintain. I think they just wanted me to go away. Their solution was to have me name not appear when someone typed it. A very stupid idea. My attorney told me to drop it and monitor the Internet until searches showed that what was being written, even without my name, could have an effect on my career. Luckily, the anonymous cowards who were trashing me found new targets in other QVC hosts.
What possible information can a company glean from anonymous posts? I can think of no valid information that can be gleaned from nameless and faceless Internet posts. The anonymity on these boards is an open invitation for sociopaths, whackos and predators to post their hatred. Most negative posts aren’t even vaguely funny. And it’s not just TV Shopping Hosts who are the targets. Message boards that allow anonymous posters exist in almost all areas of interest – news, sports, TV, radio and most hobbies.
Internet bullies abound on these boards. I had a computer guru friend who tracked down one of the people who posted some really venomous lies about me. I showed up at their door. Of course they immediately slammed it when they saw it was me. I did get to ask them if they wanted to say something to my face. I left before they could charge me with trespassing. While no capital crime was committed and the statute of limitations has expired, let me just say I made their life miserable for a while. Didn’t break any laws, just gave them the “Cape Fear” treatment for a while. Was it right? Like I said, no laws were broken and causing them some agita did feel good. Like the Joker “made” Batman, they “made” me.
These days I don’t have the time to track down these lunatics. Lunatics? Yes, the majority of people who post anonymously on the Internet are lunatics, sociopaths, sexual predators or potential violent criminals. Is my assessment too harsh? Why does anyone need to post anonymously on the Internet. What are they hiding?
Along with individual character assassination, anonymous posts can really hurt a business. Bad anonymous reviews abound on the Internet. If these people are so passionate about their views, why don’t they put their names on what they write? There are many local and federal bills that, like the little Bill on Schoolhouse Rock, are hoping to become laws.
Anti-anonymity laws would not be necessary if the companies and individuals who maintain these message boards would simply require people to register with their real names and email addresses. Why the need for anonymity? If people don’t have the courage to put their names to what they write, they should not be permitted to post it on the Internet.
Some message boards are now requiring people to register with their true names and addresses. It’s a start. Until then, most people who are or were in the public eye along with restaurants, hotels, etc., will have to suffer through the hate and nonsense posted by these nameless thugs. Even though I am pretty busy these days, I have to admit I’m considering tapping my computer guru friend to confront a few more of these weirdoes. It was fun playing “Cape Fear” for a while. Mitchum and DeNiro are much better looking than I, but I’m a hell of a lot more creative when it comes to revenge.