That is nothing new. Some of the most popular websites are known for really bringing out the worst in people, but it seems to be getting worse. Let me give you an example.

A girl in the UK found a black widow, an extremely venomous spider that generally lives in North America, in a bowl of grapes that had been bought in a local store.

The story became big on, a popular Web 2.0 site where readers can vote for (a digg) or against (bury) a story. The spider story quickly became a hit on the site, raking in more than 800 diggs in just about 24 hours.

Then the readers chimed in. Posting responses to stories is part of the reason for Digg’s popularity. Many readers commented on how creepy the story was or discussed spiders in general.

But some of the responses were just rude. Some people took to blasting the Daily Mail, which originally published the article, for not covering “real news”. The girl who found the spider was called a con-artist and accused of looking to make a quick buck.

Then there was the person who just seemed miffed that some people don’t like spiders and wrote, bad grammar and all, “I signed in to burry this article… spiders exist get over it.”

Posted comments get subjected to voting too, which usually results in a name-calling contest. If a comment is really unpopular, it can be voted right off the page.

Of course, there are no names attached to any of the comments, and these were just the ones “fit-to-print”. If you want the really nasty stuff, go to the tech section. Oddly, the political section, where I expected the real ugly mudslinging to be going on, was relatively civil.

The whole situation stinks though. The internet used to be a great place to discuss ideas. Now it’s turning into a place where any discussion quickly turns into vicious, anonymous personal attacks.

Digg isn’t the only place where this type of incivility is common, although it’s getting a reputation for being one of the worst. Pick almost any website, forum, or blog that allows users to post anonymously, and you’ll find this stuff going on.

There are many reasons, but one really stands out: anonymity. It’s no secret that people can and will say anything when there are no consequences.

Another reason seems to be age. While anonymous users don’t make it a habit of posting their date of birth, some people think these posts are coming from younger users, who enjoy engaging in behaviour that they would never dream of doing in front of their parents.

Maybe, but that doesn’t cover everybody. When Megan Meier, a teenager who used MySpace, committed suicide following a round of cyber-bulling in the United States, it wasn’t her peers who where blamed. Instead, federal prosecutors have accused the mother of one of Megan’s friends.

Now, I may be mixing apples and oranges there. Saying that extreme cyber-bullying is comparable to rude comments posted in chat forums may seem like a bit of stretch, but it all comes down to the same thing: cowardly and vicious people doing things they would never try without the benefit of an anonymous, online forum.

Picture Courtsey – Flame Warriors