The web is a great place for free political speech. It is also a beautiful informational tool. But if you are looking for total anonymity, the internet is not great. It does, however, give people the feeling of total anonymity and that is the perfect environment to see people as unfettered, morally unrestrained, emotionally spastic versions of their public face.
Six months ago, while talking about gun control legislation on a Minnesota based forum, I made the mistake of saying that we need tighter restrictions on who can get a handgun. I'm not anti-handgun and even said so on the forum, but do not own one and will not have one in my home. This was not good enough for several individuals who then said that I should "have to watch my wife get raped by a man with a gun" because that would change my tune and I would allow guns in my home.
A month ago I was on a tech forum talking about corporate regulation. Once again I'm not anti-corporate, but made the mistake of saying that large corporations have been lacking in responsibility lately. I named two corporations as well as two well known industries that have been embroiled in ethical and legal issues. An individual felt a driving need to tell me that he should "tell my neighbors that I'm a child molester" so I could understand how these corporations feel when people talk about them.
Recently, I've had people threaten over posts about nuclear energy, bamboo flooring, and my hybrid car. I've noticed that when these people think they are anonymous with their oh so clever screen names, they feel untouchable. They feel that their voice, their opinion should be law. They feel that any other opinion should be punished. And since no one can ever find out who they really are, then why not put the fear of god into this person who dares to disagree with them? This belief they have that they are untouchable on the web makes them many times more pathetic and annoying than they would normally be. It also makes them many times more dangerous, because it is just that belief (I'm untouchable) that makes people do inhuman things.
Sometimes it makes me rethink my support of free speech and internet anonymity.