Thursday, December 19, 2013

What I Learned Over A Month (Or So) As A Non-Black Anoymous Internet Commenter.

A month (or so) ago, I changed my ubiquitous avatar from a cartoonish approximation of my handsome real life visage, to a race neutral cartoonish approximation of a guy holding an American Flag. I also ditched my screen name, making it something fairly generic ("A/B") as well.

[Editor's Note: This piece likely has a million and one grammatic and spelling errors. I'm not proofreading it, nor fixing them. Mostly because I'm lazy. And also, because #science. Don't let that deter you.]

The point of this was to see if my opinions would be responded to more readily if people weren't initially forming their rebuttal with my race in mind. It was a social experiment of sorts, but it was also an acknowledgement that I get tired of being accused of being an unemployed welfare moocher with 6 illegitimate kids by people who don't know me when I'm merely trying to debate the finer points of the Afforable Care Act with some stranger on Mediaite.

There's no denying that people are more apt to repond in a different manner online that when in person. And there's likewise no doubt that people are going to form opinions of you based on ther sole appearance related item (an avatar) that you typically present online. Heck, people respond based on their (perceived) level of safety.

Tell em, Louis CK.[1]

After doing this for a month, I changed my avatar and screen name back today. I wish I could present you guys a more scientific analysis of what I learned via this little experiement, but it's close to the holidays, and I'm lazy and whatnot, so this will have to suffice.
People (Initially) Treated Me Much Better And Didn't Just (Initially) Outright Dismiss My Opinion - To be certain, I didn't change the nature of my typical comment on any of the sites I typically weigh in on. I don't usually identify myself as black when I comment either, unless the subject calls for that, and I never did so during this month. Not once in my generic avi experiment was I accused of being on The Welfare or getting SNAP benefits. Being a "liberal" and an ObamaBot, sure. But nothing racial. Ever. And I found fellow commenters far more likely to engage in debate, rather than just dismissing me. Hmmmmmm.

I Never Got "Outed" - You'd think people would just click on my profile, see the link to my site, and figure out I was a black guy. Didn't happen. I'm not shocked either, because most people don't have that kinda time.

I'm Not Surprised By Any Of This, Nor Do I Really Think It's A Problem. - There is racism in America. That's a fact, despite whatever Fox News might suggest. It just is what it is, and I don't think it's going away anytime soon. To police their comment boards, a lot of news sites are now requiring comments to be posted via Facebook accounts, in an attempt to limiting trolls and anonymous comments. The thought is that if people have to put their real name and face beside what they're saying they'll likely be more considerate and thus more civil.[2] As a guy who has made his name via a largely anonymous online persona, you might guess where I fall on this topic.
All in all, this results of this experiment weren't really suprising. I long assumed people lobbed racist comments at me because I was black, and that was essentially confirmed. And I don't really know if my life's any better for wear with that bit of information.

Question: What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you also find people online respond to you based on assumptions formed via your avatar/screen name?

[1] Speaking of appearance-based stereotypes, I slept on this guy for the longest because I assumed I wouldn't find his style of comedy very relatable. I was completely wrong. I don't know if I agree with the "genius" label many people fling at him, but seriously, this dude is absolutely hilarious.

[2] See the comedy clip again, just for reinforcement of this concept.

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