The Sinister March of Net NicenessS

Wikipedia, once an internet free-for-all, has announced it will now screen changes to certain articles. The New York Times' ethics columnist, meanwhile, is joining the eternal backlash against anonymous blogging. Two steps toward a nice, peaceful, boring and neutered internet.

The changes at Wikipedia, which mandate review for anonymous changes to articles about living people, sound reasonable enough. The online reference has messed up its share of biographies, after all, falsely reporting the deaths of Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd and erroneously linking a prominent journalist to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

"The Ethicist" Randy Cohen's diatribe against anonyblogging of the sort aimed at Vogue model Liskula Cohen (pictured) likewise rests on a not-so-controversial assertion, namely that anonymous internet commenters are often complete assholes. And yet the column by Cohen (the nebbishy Times writer, not the hot model) is controversial, because it turns out he quoted his ex-wife without disclosing that fact. Which we know because of a — wait for it — anonymous blogger!

And that's the thing about being impolite online: it might be needlessly abrasive 95 times out of 100, but those other five times it's awesome, conveying fresh perspective readers would not have seen were it not for the cloak of anonymity. Cohen says we should make anonymity utterly shameful, except in cases where there is a "reasonable fear of retribution," but this sort of etiquette is basically just a way of regulating opinion, and runs counter to the rawness that has historically been one of the Web's great strengths. You could say the same thing about Wikipedia's new mechanisms for institutional control. Anonymous writers might not always absolutely need the secrecy the shroud themselves in, but they have good reason to want it.

Put another way, if we have to choose between prim scolds like Randy Cohen and impolitic ankle-biters like Fake Steve Jobs (anonymous for many months) or NYTPicker, we'll take the latter any day, even if the price is wading through tons of crap.