While I'm already on the subject of words and their power and being careful not to hurt other people through words, I just want to raise one issue that I've been giving some thought to. The dangers that the internet presents are well-discussed and very apparent, yet there's one angle that may be overlooked. That angle is anonymity. There's nothing so new about anonymously expressing opinions--people have been doing it way before technology evolved. But now, anonymous opinions are broadcast to the (sometimes unsuspecting) public faster than you can say "Click" and the writer need take no responsibility for ensuring that his/her words have been carefully weighed and measured. After all, she's not Leah Goldstein of Monsey, NY; she's shoegirl67 or TheMomma. He can mouth off about who he hates and why and still show his face at minyan the next morning, because no one would ever dream that BlueWolf is really Chaim Shmerel Hirsch.
There is, unfortunately, lots and lots of very bitter, poisonous, negative words circulating on the internet--some of it is downright hateful invective. These words are, sadly, being posted by people who, in their "real" lives, may be careful to adhere to the laws of proper speech and who would never come up to someone in the street and say the horrible things they feel perfectly comfortable typing onto their computer screen. Aside from the plain chillul Hashem (desecrating the sanctity of G-d's Name by behaving improperly, which leads others to denigrate Torah Jews and, a priori, their Creator, G-d) of Torah Jews penning words of this kind, there's also a question here about what kind of affect such diatribe has on its perpetrator. One's words, whether spoken or written, have a profound effect on one's soul and mind. Do we really want to internalize that vindictive, cutting comment we just posted on someone's blog (No, folks, this is not personal. Thank goodness, it seems only gentle, noble readers post comments on THIS blog. If anything, my frustration with posters is that people don't comment ENOUGH!)?
Maybe this "anonymity breeds contempt" phenomenon would make for a good psychological or sociological study. BIs there some kind of catharsis at work here? Some kind of Walter Mitty Meets the Web? The shy girl who never opens her mouth in real life is suddenly a big-shot know-it-all in the "kosher" chatroom, earning respect for her brash opinions. Is this okay? Is it wrong? Can it be fixed?
I think a good litmus test of whether something should or shouldn't be said is whether one is willing to say it without hiding behind a pseudonym. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.