Unvarnished: Anonymity Makes People Mean, Not Honest

Last Updated Apr 7, 2010 7:50 AM EDT

Unvarnished: web anonymity turns people into jerksStart-up Unvarnished is making a splash in the blogosphere. Basically a Yelp for people that allows users to anonymously review others' professional reputations, the site has BNET's Steve Tobak up in arms and declaring it a train-wreck, while others are musing on whether any of us will have any control over our online reputations in the future.

It's early days yet, but I'm inclined to agree with Steve. Why? It's not that online anonymity makes people into clear-eyed truth tellers; it more often turns them into spiteful, small-minded jerks. How do we know? Past experience. As the Social Citizens blog points out, anonymity, like masks, does not usually bring out our best selves:

I find that whenever I need to say something difficult - like "I totally disagree with you" or "I think you're a jerk" or even "I'd like to go out with you" â€" it's always easier to do that while leaning on technology. I'll say things over email or text that I might have a harder time saying in person. Similarly, it's amazing to see some of the nasty, negative, and frankly, unproductive things people will say in online forums or blog comments when they can anonymously post a cheap shot with a couple of clicks.

With this in mind, my prediction for Unvarnished is that it reveals more about the nasty lows reviewers can sink to than it does valuable truths about those being reviewed. What's your prediction?

(Mask image by xenia antune, CC 2.0)

  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.