This post by Kathy Sierra is the kind of thing that makes me want to turn off my computer, unplug it, and never go anywhere near the Internet again. It’s one thing to talk trash on a Web site — it’s kind of a lousy thing, but still. It’s another thing entirely to make anonymous death threats in a public forum, and to go to the effort of photoshopping images to illustrate said threats.

When we made the Internet, we sold it on the premise that we could all enjoy complete freedom of speech, backed up by complete anonymity. What we didn’t do was tell people about all the good things they could do with their expanded ability to express themselves; we just told them that they could do anything. People aren’t used to having that much leeway, and so, unsure of where to begin, they just started spewing out the first things they could think to say that they weren’t allowed to say in real life: naughty words and harsh insults. We failed to tell them that this sort of speech could be just as hurtful online as it is offline; instead, we complimented them and patted ourselves on the back for forging a brave new culture based on whatever transgressive acts we could think up.

Now we’ve reached the point where people go around creating web sites expressly for the purpose of slagging on those who dare to stick their necks out and have public lives, and then turn around and act surprised when people use these sites to spread fear and perpetrate violence. This is the Web we weaved: Not a never-ending carnival, but a never-ending riot. And now we seem to be caught in it, all of us.

How do we convince people to take off their masks and own their own words, to take responsibility for the things they do and say online?