Dear elearning101...

Every so often, someone who 'wishes to remain anonymous' slithers out from under a stone to post a few destructive or malicious comments on someone else's blog, vandalises a wiki page (like 'Furballer' did recently) or hacks into a site. Sometimes the comments are quite clever. More often though, they are simply meant to hurt, damage or undermine. The perpetrator hides behind their anonymity because they wouldn't have the courage to say the same thing to a person's face. It's so easy to be anonymous on the web. Then you can say exactly what you want to say, and suffer no personal consequences, because there's no come back. Right? Er... wrong. Let me introduce you all to 'elearning101' (whoever he or she may be), and point you in the direction of their recent post on my Slideshare site. This is what elearning101 wrote:

"Another rehash of the same old stuff. Is this really what passes off as a keynote nowadays? Any chance of of evidence rather than a load of hyperbole. This is just a list of ideas loosely thrown together without any examples, evaluation or evidence Can anyone explain what a CC Steve Wheeler licence is? Does the author have his own version of Creative Commons?"

This was posted in response to a slideset several people asked me to share after they heard my keynote presentation in Germany for the LearnTEC Conference. I don't want to make a big fuss out of this, or act like a wounded victim, because I'm not. I'm big enough and old enough not to worry too much about a few negative comments. The positive comments I receive about my work far outnumber the negative, abusive or disparaging ones. No, instead I want to point out that posting anonymous rude comments on someone else's site is unacceptable. For me, it's a form of cyber bullying. I won't stand for it, and neither should you. I'm writing this blogpost because I want to bring such behaviour out into the open. In so doing I hope the community of practice I value, the readers of this blog, and those who are as passionate as me about learning and technology can read, be aware, assess and otherwise discuss the implications of it.

Here's what I wrote in response to elearning101 on my Slideshare site:

"Wow, thanks for your comments elearning101 - if that is your real name. :-D Unfortunately, your comments don’t really bear any resemblance to reality and I’m almost certain you wouldn’t be bold enough to say this to my face. Agreed, some of the slides have been used before in previous presentations, but the content and message were specific to the audience at LearnTEC so I repurposed some of them appropriately.

Ask anyone who attended for their comments and feedback and I think you will find they would be all very positive, and we had a lot of constructive dialogue afterwards. That has to be worth something? I would like to discuss this with you without you hiding behind your shroud of anonymity sometime perhaps... I’m open to criticism, when people are honest with their identities, and then perhaps your comments might actually carry some weight."

Ironically, since I posted the slideshow, it has received over 1500 hits in 24 hours. Not bad for a slideshow filled with hyperbole and a lack of examples, evaluation and evidence eh? I would also like to ask this: How does elearning101 know that my talk was all hyperbole and lacking evidence? Answer - they don't, unless they were in the audience. Then they would have heard the evidence I cited from my own recent studies into my students' use of social media. I will also say this (although I doubt very much if elearning101 will dare to reveal their true identity, especially now I have made their activity public). I repeat my challenge to elearning101 to discuss with me why s/he thinks my slides are valueless. They actually make a valid point about the Creative Commons licence - I failed to post the final slide which tells viewers exactly which licence I selected - a share alike, non-commercial licence. Shame, because these kinds of argument would hold more water if these anonymous commenters provide their real name. I would also like to hear if elearning101 or anyone like them has ever been up to their tricks on anyone else's sites. What is the extent of this kind of anonymous commenting? I'm well aware that elearning101 has been active on other sites, including Wikipedia, so watch out - your website could be next.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm open to any amount of criticism, as long as it is constructive and is given without spite. Tell me what is wrong but then tell me what you think I could do to improve it. I learn a lot from the feedback of my own personal learning network. When it's anonymous and destructive though, I think the writer forfeits their right to be taken seriously. But I also wonder what you think as you read this? I welcome comments from anyone (including elearning101 of course) on this incident, but please identify yourself if you are able to. Have you experienced the same or similar? What are your views on such incidents? And what are the implications for us all as an online community?

Image source by Jeff the Trojan

Creative Commons Licence
Dear elearning101... by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
Hi Steve,
I just want to tell you, that the other day I used on of your web 3.0 presentations in a teacher training on learning 2.0 together with Ulrike. I kind of improvised explaining the slides, telling the audience about you and your philosophy and I think I somehow maged to get your message over. It is absolutely stupid of this anonymous critic to criticize for using some of the slides you had used in previous talks- the slides do not live without you presenting, explaining, discussing them with your specific audience and even if you use the same 2 or 3 slides in another talk the talk will be quite different. I - and many good presenters I know -have the same problem, adapting my talks on the same topic to a different audience and I also reuse some of the same slides. But the slideshare alone does not give a proper impression of the actual talk! The reason for this is that we do not use loads of explaining text on the slides anymore so that you really need to listen to the presenter to crasp the whole meaning. I think our reason to publish the slides for the public is rather meant for the audience who attended the real talk so that they can better memorize it. I agree with you that is completely unacceptable in an open net to hide behind an anonymous identity to critize in this way.
Anyway- looking very much forward to your keynote at the MoodleMoot in Elmshorn!
Noreen Dunnett said…
I'm with you Steve - if I want to make a comment I do it openly, under my own name. I recently made a critical but I hope, balanced comment about a company's new business learning game which I thought was a bit 'same old, same old.." but had some lovely visuals and a great concept. I was delighted when they responded at length and we are now involved in a dialogue about serious games in business. Life-enhancing and hopefully construtive, but from a critical comment!
AdiNotNow said…
It seems that elearning101 may be one of those basement bloggers commented on last year. You know the ones. The so called balding mothers boys or whatever they were labelled as by Andrew Marr I think it was. At least that's the immediate image I get from reading that post. The alternative is a lousy undergraduate who may be irritated by academic rigour.
It's interesting that this 'netdisinhibition' is so prevalent amonst the younger generations and I fear this will just be one of a rising number of similar comments on many websites. That is until society make it absolutely clear that this behaviour is unacceptable. How? Educate the youngest users and make it a behaviour in the same area as theft or telling lies. There will though, always be those who will be unable to break that habit.
I like the way you have 'outed' this person. Maybe a list should be published of those who make these comments. It may just attract the usual nutters desperate for some kind of notoriety confusing it with fame!
James Clay said…

When I got a very negative abusive comment on this post of mine.

I just deleted it, ignored it and moved on.

My post was part of a series of posts about the JISC Online Conference and this one was about the coffee you get at conferences... it was written tongue in cheek, however the commentor was very abusive and really tore into my for “complaining” about the coffee and that I should feel grateful for being about to attend conferences and shouldn’t complain about the coffee.

Oh and yes the commentor didn’t use their real name... though using Wordpress means I do have their IP address!

What I learnt from this and would say to you is that in any community, online or offline, there will be people who are for many reasons unhappy, stressed, depressed, etc... they will “lash out” against people who they perceive to be “luckier” or “had advantages” they didn’t.

They are often seeking a reaction.

My strategy is not to engage, worry or think about these kinds of posts. I delete them and go off and do something else.

So delete this blog post and don’t give elearning101 and the other abusive commentors the oxygen of publicity.

Just my tuppence.


You can see my rehashed and repurposed and resused slides here....
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Sigi. It's wonderful to hear that others are finding it useful to repurpose my slides and use them in different contexts. That's the very reason I share them freely. While I was at LearnTEC this week, someone (with my permission) presented one of my recent slide shows to an audience in Plymouth. I agree that it's the ideas that are important, and that they come alive in different ways, depending on who is interpreting them. I'm very much looking forward to coming to speak at Moodlemoot. I will bring along some repurposed slides, and also some new ones! :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
That's the best way Noreen - be open and honest, as well as critical. That way, what you say has some learning value. Destructive comments have no real value - they are simply self-gratification for the person who makes them.
Steve Wheeler said…
I hear what you're saying James, and I did think about just deleting the comment and moving on, but I have done that a few times, and for me it leaves the matter unresolved.

I think posting a response in this way allows others in the network to be aware of the issues and can maybe help them to address them themselves if a similar thing happens to them. Either way, this post has already generated some heat and hopefully will generate a lot of light too. Cheers mate.
teachernz said…
I read your blog and slidesets regularly... if I have something to say I'll add my two penn'orth as a comment... like this. I see no benefit to having a secret identity (except the cape) for discussions, where's the respect and honesty in that?

By the way, if you need it, I'll hold your coat. ;-)
Anne Marie said…
Re slideshare... You could record your audio and make a slidecast. That really would be useful. I find this almost as good as being there.
I agree this is bad behavior by the poster. I also got annoyed by a student who openly blogged about their perceived lack of social media savvy of their professor... Without discussing with the prof first. Bad behavior but over 100 comments- none making that point. That's for bringing etiquette to the fore.
Craig Taylor said…
Hi Steve,

First and foremost I agree with everybody opinions surrounding anonymous postings and in particular those that are rude or 'attacking' - (and that's coming from somebody who'd be happy to have 'any' comments on his blog) ;-)

Secondly though, I wonder whether there is a learning point hidden away somewhere inside 'elearning 101's' comment and yours and Sieglindes responses?

In your open letter you said

"I would also like to ask this: How does elearning101 know that my talk was all hyperbole and lacking evidence? Answer - they don't, unless they were in the audience. Then they would have heard the evidence I cited from my own recent studies into my students' use of social media"

Sieglende replied

"the slides do not live without you presenting, explaining, discussing them with your specific audience"


"we do not use loads of explaining text on the slides anymore so that you really need to listen to the presenter to crasp the whole meaning"

Which brings me onto the learning point here...

Whilst Slideshare is a great tool in it's basic state *if* you are using lots of bullet points, text and data on the screen, it is not so effective if you are following best practice and are only using the slides to convey images, quotes or visuals to support the story that you are telling.

This for me is where the Slidecast functionality within Slideshare really comes into it's own as it allows you to still follow best practice in terms of the appearance and content of the slides, but those slides can then be verbally expanded upon via the ability to synchronise your verbal story to the slides.

Admittedly, this takes longer to do than just uploading the slides on their own, but if you have a decent portable audio recorder then you could even record your session live and use that audio to overlay on top of your slides.

As you know I recent spoke at LT11 and used a similar technique for my slides (although admittedly the audio was recorded at home and not 'live') here it is

Maybe we can all salvage something out of 'elearning101's' anonymous, covert, sniping and think about using Slideshare to better effect?

Ultimately, the egg is then back on 'eleaning101's' face as they have inadvertently brought this discussion to the fore, without which maybe we wouldn't be discussing how to get more out of Slideshare?

Steve Wheeler said…
Those are excellent points Craig. I can see your learning point and it was already beginning to dawn on me when I read what Sigi had posted. Ann-Marie - thanks also for your suggestion along the same lines. I'm already making podcasts accompanied by slides for iTunesU and it's a short step from this to doing a full blown keynote presentation including an audio track to accompany future (and existing) slide shows. Your comments have been invaluable - thank you all :-)
P@ said…
Hi Steve,

I have no problem with anonymous comments in general - sometimes people don't feel confident enough to use their real name or a consistent pseudonym. When someone is, erm, as 'assertive' as in this case, though, it is hard to try to justify the use of anonymity in that way! I like the way you handled it.

It's interesting though, this idea of anonymity or pseudonymity - we have very little way of knowing whether a comment is really from a person by the same name as that which shows on our screens. In many ways, it probably doesn't matter - if elearning101 chose to continue the discussion using the same name, for instance, their real identity doesn't matter much.

Or does it? Consistent use of a name - whether it is real or not - allows an accrual of trust and reputation. If you want to be part of a conversation (rather than just sniping), it is useful for others to be able to understand something of your background so they can 'get' where you are coming from. Occasionally it can make sense for someone to re-invent themselves if they have damaged their reputation, or, if they have been victimised by others. When an 'anonymous' user leaves a message, it may be that they are 'new', or recently re-invented, rather than trying to be anonymous, per se.

It's all a bit complicated, and a matter of judgement. I would say that if someone has reinvented themselves, it seems wise to enter the conversation in a more moderate way - not that this was anywhere near as vitriolic as some I have seen, but elearning101's comments would have had a much stronger impact, I would imagine, if they had complimented aspects they saw value in before criticising.

Anyway, I have to go - Godson is demanding playtime :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
I thank you for your considered response Pat - it's a valuable insight into the digital identity theme and sheds some light on some of the emergent issues surrounding anonymity on the web. I use a psuedonym and an image to represent me on Twitter - @timbuckteeth - but if you drill down to the next level you will see that it is actually me, and I am not actually hiding behind a username. I guess that could be construed as psuedonymity?

It's the truely anonymous characters who seem to think they can get away with any comments without consequences. I also concur with you that a balanced set of feedback including constructive criticism even from a fully anonymous person, is more acceptable than a completely negative one. Again, thanks for contributing so eloquently to the discussion.
Nick Sharratt said…
i have used psuedo-anonymous commenting over the years from time to timee, especially if commenting on or contributing to a discussion which may be controversial and which may have an impact on my proffesional life in the future (say if a future employeer held a strong opposing view). I tend to see these as sensible procautions rather than carte blanche to say whay i like.

So, I don't see anything "wrong" with the notion of psuedonyms on the net. There is also the benefit at times of anonymity being a "status leveler" where one might be dismissed out of hand in a debate through having no history in the subject rather than addressing what may be valid arguments from an outsider. (this can be frustrating too when people with no idea about a subject demand their arguments are valid making it time consuming to engage in debate to expose the flaws)

To paraphrase Colt: "God made all men, anonymity on the net made them equal"

All that said, anyone who's engaged with social activity on the net for any length of time should know that rule 1 is:

Don't feed the Trolls! :)
Steve Wheeler said…
I agree Nick. There's nothing wrong with anonymity in most situations. But when it is used as a mask behind which someone does things they would not dare to do if they could be identified, then it is clearly wrong. What say you?
David Hopkins said…
Steve - as always, an excellent opener for discussion!!

In all online activity I always put my name to it, even if I may say something to someone they might not like - this way we can start the discussion and begin to understand a different viewpoint (we don't have to like the other person's opinion, but we're all entitled to our own!).

Whenever I talk to staff or students about online behaviour, "netiquette" if you may, I stress the importance of owning up to your comment - if you criticise someone or something then you give your comments and viewpoint credibility by putting your name on it; if you remain anonymous then, for me, you don't have the balls to back-up your comment and should not be surprised when you're ignored.

All the best, David
Nick Sharratt said…
I agree that hiding behind anonymity to throw taunts that one wouldn't be prepared to say opening is childish and cowardly. However, attempting to engage such behaviour in sensible debate is pointless (usually) and simply ignoring it removes the oxygen they need crave. That said, I completely understand the temptation and human reaction to want to tackle it.
Steve Wheeler said…
I hear what you're saying Nick, and would normally ignore and delete (as James Clay suggested earlier) but I deliberately chose to engage on my blog. I did it not as a 'reaction' to the anonymous poster, but to expose the practice in the hope that it would be discussed. I think I have achieved my aim, and also demonstrated the power of the tribe to challenge bad behaviour on the Web.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments David - as usual I agree with your sentiments. On this occasion I thought it better not to ignore it, but to challenge it directly via a public forum.
David Hopkins said…
Hi Steve - thanks for reposting this on Twitter today.

I have not had the kind of negativity in comments as you have received. Mind you, I don't have the reach and readership of your work, but I'm working on it ;-)

I do moderate comments, and do so openly as I say blog profile page ... but here's why - it's not to moderate comments or discussion as I welcome this activity. I moderate to reduce the amount of unrelated rubbish or advertising that gets submitted. I run WordPress with anti-spam and Disqus plugins to help get rid of the automated stuff that comes through, so the stuff I do get is written by someone, somewhere. I do not want this causing 'noise' and therefore reducing the impact of legitimate (+ive or -ive) comments.

All the best, David

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