Why are we hiding? Anonymity Online

Anonymity. There are times it has its place: whistle blowers, political refugees, critics trying to stay under the radar, hilariously crazy Amazon reviews. But as a public relations pro, I’d never post anything on behalf of myself or client without disclosure.

Then there’s privacy. I’m a TripAdvisor – with a handle. I give honest, unbiased reviews, but don’t necessarily want my name attached to my travel history. See also message boards and Internet forums, so many other online activities when we’re decent people, participating in the human condition, talking to each other on all subjects under the sun. I get most of my tech support from Mac and Apple forums that way.

Anonymous Internet Dickwad: Fact, not Theory

The Karen Klein story with its viral video* of the school bus monitor and crowdshare fundraising on her behalf continues to make news.

While reports of students bullying teachers may not be uncommon, what is uncommon these days: adult supervision, discipline, respect, [bleeping] responsibiltity, basic courtesy we’ve had since we dropped Neanderthal from our middle names.

We – most of us – wouldn’t walk up to a total stranger, call them names, threaten them, mock their clothes or jobs as part of some sick blood sport. But online?

“If you don’t have anything nice to say.. come sit by me.”

I’m fine with not liking a thing and saying so: you don’t care for this movie, think so-and-so is the worst TV character ever, don’t agree with that political position, can’t believe what some celebs wear on the red carpet.

But wishing ill on someone? Going after the person, not the issue?

I may think Kristen Stewart is a dreadful actress — but I’d never waste my time with some web campaign against her. Certainly wouldn’t wish her physical or emotional harm. It’d never occur to me to write or post or tweet anything other than – “Snow White was OK… but Stewart needs acting lessons, maybe eat a burger once in a while.” But then, I’m not much of a troll.

What is it about hiding behind a keyboard or cell phone that turns people into jerks?!

Reading the Carnival UnBlog, John Heald’s rant on trolls it occurred to me that:

  1. They should adopt stronger comment policies/spam blockers to prevent anonymous jerks from posting porn on their FB page (seriously?) or hate comments against his kids (WTH?!) on the blog; and
  2. Google+ has a point, requiring real names.

If you want to restore some civility to online discourse, what better way to make someone accountable than unmasking them? Never mind you get a more accurate data of users – no more fake Facebook friends whose parents oddly chose the name “Puppies are Cute” – requiring real names you get real people, being genuinely social, for better or worse.

Anonymity or Transparency?

Per my comment policy, I block anonymous comments and keywords-as-names. But I see purpose in having ‘secret’ profiles for some online activity.

I’ve read many a post on the pros and cons of online anonymity, don’t have an answer. You?

*On my wish list: the video of these kids’ punishment, no cell phones or Facebook or allowance, not to mention the hours of community service and volunteering they should be doing. Brats. My parents would have made me clean her house, mow her yard, wash her car – all summer.



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6 thoughts on “Why are we hiding? Anonymity Online

  1. There is way too much anonymity on the interwebz. People hide behind a nobody and dish dirt and bully bloggers and commenters. And the comments are horribly rude and underlie the negativity that is now shaping America as well as the political divisiveness.

    I devoured Inc. last night, and there’s a story I clipped out about an MMA fighter organization having its website hacked by “Anonymous.” Apparently,this group went after the organization and its president stood up squarely on televised fights to challenge the group. Twitter erupted and the hackers got careless and revealed too much. The FBI stormed in to make arrests. Justice.
    Jayme Soulati recently posted..Promote Safe Blogging; Report Blogger Abuse

    1. Can’t remember which magazine it was, pretty big online.. the registered comments were ridiculous. Not just profanity, but flagrant hate.. and clearly, some were for sport. I can appreciate a good barb or zinger once in a while, but that’s not an excuse for meanness, pettiness. Yet another reason I keep many of my personal thoughts and feelings to myself; don’t want it to be fodder for this kinda bullshit.

    1. Well there’s a word you don’t hear everyday. I’m certainly less inhibited on my ‘play’ Twitter account.. but still, not that point. Even a ‘mean-spirited’ barb lacks this kind of sting. I’m often told I’m snarky, but it’s humor – not what we see from people bullying each other on FB or Yahoo! news comments. Sad. Thanks Frank.

  2. Davina,

    Generally speaking, if someone feels strongly about a topic and feels compelled to publicly opine, that individual should also stand by that opinion. As you stated, there are some exceptions for personal privacy/safety. But if you feel the world needs to know what you think, doesn’t the world deserve to know its your opinion? I suppose that’s not a real answer, just a generality, but it is a sticky subject. Part of the problem, in John Barnett’s humble opinion, is anonymity usually offers one the chance to spew bile without consequence. Sometimes I wonder if Tobias Fornell was on to something when he said, “Things were better before the Internet …” But I remember it’s only a tool, and the problem still boils down to people and how they use it.

    As for the non-parented juvenile delinquents, they should be grateful my mom is not their mom. In her house, the video would be a guilty verdict for an automatic capital crime …

    1. It is absolutely about the people and how they use the tools John. B/c this was running way too long, I’d cut the part where I wondered if it was a case of Internet attracting more jerks b/c they could be hidden, or if b/c they were hidden, people felt more empowered, to both good and bad. Still think it’s kinda both but the bad has become tainted by so much vile and venom. And to see that kind of behavior spill over to everyday life, it’s very frustrating.

      And trust me, I barely listed the punishments my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles would have devised. Thanks for sharing.

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