FINCH: Anonymous

By Curt Finch

MOISD Superintendent

The internet has brought in an additional platform allowing one to dispense opinions to others by commenting anonymously. Online and traditional commerce originally thought by allowing their users to comment, rate their service or have constructive dialog to solve a common problem, it would be helpful for business and maybe even the common good. What started out as a constructive idea has morphed into a potentially volatile one when anonymity was introduced; accountability was instantly eliminated.

In the education world, from kindergarten through college, there are places to gather student, staff and community input to monitor levels of service and qualities of product. The MOISD does surveys every couple of years to obtain feedback to assist goal formation and weigh progress on initiatives. Most educational institutions do student surveys to receive feedback on instructors; Rate My Teacher/Professor are widely used throughout the world as an online community-comment tool.

There is great debate within legislative, K-12 boards of education, university boards of trustees and administrative circles on whether to actually use anonymous student input into a teacher/professor’s evaluation.

This is where the issue can become difficult to dissect correctly; how much do you weigh student input? What is the best grade to start gathering student input on the effectiveness of an instructor? Will students rate their "tougher" instructors more negatively, thus jeopardizing the future career of that instructor? Will students make brash statements to get rid of their instructors who disagree philosophically, educationally or religiously?

Unfortunately, if they are allowed to do it anonymously, human nature, history and recent research data says, "yes." Yik Yak, one of the many online tools used by students to remain anonymous, is currently impacting the University of Missouri enough to facilitate the cancellation of classes, the resignation of leadership and an increase in minority student fear on campus. The organization of a "mob" mentality via social media is becoming a preferred method of creating "change," usually anonymously. These types of tools can be used to intimidate, harass, and bully people — all under the guise of doing good.

A whole computer hacking underground society, ironically called "Anonymous," has been wreaking havoc upon corporations, governments and common citizens around the world under the banner of "moral relativism"since 2003. Many students have committed suicide because of the impact of anonymous harassment; cyber bullying is at epidemic proportions and the adults may be worse than the kids. Just open a Facebook account!

The concept of anonymous feedback being good for society may be losing steam. The good news is that more and more groups, schools, universities and businesses are removing their comment boards and limiting the impact of anonymous survey feedback data as it has morphed into places for intolerance, discrimination, negativity, bullying and hate speech. Administrators, boards and business owners should be very careful about making decisions from anonymous survey/social media feedback sources; Anonymous is only valuable when protecting someone’s safety; if used improperly, it can be a very dangerous tool.

Dr. Finch can be reached at cfinch@moisd.org.