Do Twitter and Other Social Networks Shield Anonymous Complainers on Topics like Health-Care Reform? (Opinion)

Or do public online forums also give way to honest, informative discussions on contentious issues?

by / November 2, 2009

I try to speak up to my government representatives about things that are important to me. Even if little old me can't change the world, I like to think I can exert some influence as part of a larger group. I occasionally write my congressional representatives regarding issues I care about in hopes that others will do the same and possibly create some momentum. I dutifully sign my name (albeit virtually) every time.

But I recently took issue with a tweet from a public figure I follow on Twitter, so I decided to tell him what I think. This time, I didn't sign my name. I only had 140 characters to make my point. I felt a twinge of guilt about sending an unsigned message. I sent my comment anyway. After all, Twitter wasn't designed for detail. I still felt like the move was sort of similar to posting anonymous comments on online news stories. I always wrote these forums off as being only for chronic complainers who wouldn't air such outrageous opinions if they had to sign their names to them.

But in recent months, I've seen the value in being able to quickly and easily comment on a given topic. I often see my governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, broadcasting reply tweets to followers making suggestions via Twitter. And it's clear these suggestions are being taken seriously, even if they are from joe7586. So I guess it doesn't really matter if people don't want to offer up their identity when they express their opinions. At least people are speaking up. I, like most, am guilty of skipping a discussion or two because I don't want to start an argument or show some ignorance. But if I'd spoken up, I might have learned something. Or maybe someone could have learned something from me. The Internet has enabled honest discussions on things people don't like to talk about for fear of making enemies of co-workers and neighbors, and social networks and Web 2.0 capabilities are creating even more venues for them.

One area where I've seen this in action is health-care reform. While town hall discussions across the country disintegrated into shouting matches and political spin, in my own experience, I learned a lot about the different angles on some of these issues by tracking some surprisingly well thought-out discussions online. Web 2.0 technologies are providing more and better ways for people to have unrestrained discussions on topics that government should be in on. It's exciting to see governments embracing technologies, like Twitter (and who knows what will come next), that let citizens interact easily and informally with their government.