Citizen Wausau

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The Funny Thing About Anonymity

by on October 3rd, 2009

Like Dino, I’ve been following this Klocko story with a sort of morbid curiosity; it’s really a slow-motion trainwreck of sorts. Before I go any further, let’s review the players:

  • Dean Zuleger: Weston Administrator. Named Wausau Daily Herald’s “Person of the Year”.
  • Paul Klocko: commenter “juanmoore” on the WDH forums. Posts inflammatory comments about Zuleger in response to the article.
  • Wausau Daily Herald: releases Klocko’s email address at Zuleger’s request.

This is clearly a situation where a series of bad decisions led us to where we currently are, but somehow everyone seems to be pointing the finger at Zuleger when the worst offender here from a journalistic standpoint is the Daily Herald.

I Hate the Daily Herald

I find it amazing that I can frequent forums with hundreds of thousands of users that still remain coherent and fully functional, because if the user base was scaled up proportionally from the forums on WDH, the servers would be on fire and simply trying to log in would cause your computer to explode.

Unfortunately, these are the same people who comment on the articles, resulting in a discussion where commenters who have any rationality left are far outnumbered by people whose entire vernacular consists of insults, bigotry and misinformation.

I find this to be pretty amazing; while I have met many locals in my ten years here, I’ve yet to meet someone in real life who behaves in a way indicative of a typical WDH commenter.

The reason for this is glaringly obvious. One of the beautiful pitfalls of the internet is that it allows anyone to have a voice, and to do so without necessarily attaching that voice to a real person. This is generally pretty harmless, for in larger, global communities, people who prefer only to cause trouble (“trolls”) are pretty quickly called out by the people with a genuine interest in being there (a self-policing of sorts) or in more dire cases, are banned completely.

While this seems to happen occasionally on WDH, it doesn’t seem to occur with a frequency that would send a message to other trolling users, and trolling is exactly what Klocko was doing.

I Love the Daily Herald

There are a few steps the various involved could have taken that would’ve drastically altered this whole situation. A good moderator would have shut Klocko down almost immediately, for while he is well within his rights to be dissatisfied with Zuleger’s award and to express that dissatisfaction on a public forum, his contributions were of little to no value and only intended to hurt others. While he may have been doing his part to further prove Godwin’s Law, it’s pretty hard to argue that “Little Hitler” counts as any sort of useful commentary.

Klocko, if he were going to insist on logging on to a public site and being very vocal about the people he dislikes, could’ve have gone a step further to protect his anonymity, like registering an anonymous email address to use for that account. From what I understand, that’s the only bit of information WDH was able to provide to Zuleger, so it either used Klocko’s name or was easily associated to him after a quick visit to Google. Or (imagine this) not act like a complete lunatic in the first place.

And honestly, Zuleger could’ve let this whole thing roll off his back, but I can’t fault him too much. If put in a similar situation I would probably do the same thing. Klocko has made it very apparent that he has deep-seated issues with Zuleger but at the same time refuses to act like grownup and actually try to resolve them.

So while professionally I’m obligated to chastise the Daily Herald for violating the trust of one (or more) of their users, I find that on a personal level I’m absolutely loving that they threw Klocko to the wolves. It needed to happen, and I wouldn’t mind at all if it happened more frequently to those who blatantly abuse their anonymity.

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