Is the right to talk smack online, hidden under a cloak of anonymity, without being held responsible afforded to us under the First Amendment? That’s the big question this week as controversy swirls around Google’s unmasking of the “Skanks in NYC” anonymous author. Under court order, Google gave the blogger the chance to step forward, before they were ordered to reveal her identity as part of a defamation lawsuit.
There are good and bad aspects to the mask of anonymity online. Most of us like the idea of having the option to be hidden until we are ready to be otherwise, but as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Here is a breakdown of some of the good and bad of wearing the mask online.
- Participation in online support groups can spur someone’s desire to get help for an addiction or disorder. As human beings with emotions, we have been known to fear the judgment of others, and many times this prevents us from getting real or honest. Wearing a mask online helps up to feel protected from the judgment we perceive.
- For many, social situations cause fear and anxiety. It’s not that they are scared of people – they are just introverted or feel socially awkward. Many of us just need a few moments to warm up, maybe a little liquid courage, and we’re good to go. But for many others, the mask is a way to reveal bits and pieces of themselves over a long period of time, instead of just “putting it out there”.
- In the teen circles, the mask of the Internet has proven to come with some very sad consequences. Recent research shows that in 2011 43% of kids admitted to being bullied online. Most of the time, these instances of cyber bullying follow these kids to school. There is a freedom that seems to come with the access to the Internet and the various resources that are available, but these same freedoms can also breed irresponsible behavior in teens when they aren’t aware of the dangers.
- Spammers can operate safely hidden behind a generic email address and clog up the communication channels. Think about how your mailbox gets filled with junk that just frustrates you and ends up in the trash. You can’t write them back to complain and there’s no way to get them to stop aside from vigorous blocking systems. But even those systems are not 100% effective and they will drag down your reputation.
Masks make us feel safe. It’s a truth in society that we wear one any time we’re being introduced to something or someone new. We do things that will make us feel comfortable and in stressful situations, sometimes what makes us feel comfortable is hiding. It’s in our nature to want to keep some of our inner thoughts and ideas hidden. Could you imagine airing all of your dirty laundry on a first date? You’d never see a second.
Here is what it really boils down to: if you’re going to have the guts to talk about a person online, you shouldn’t complain when someone figures out who you are and wants you to take responsibility for what you said.
I’ve made some of my best friends through the safety of anonymity and I was “cyberbullied” before it was even a buzz word. Those who go online simply to stir up drama might have a right to do it, but it doesn’t make it right, and they simply ruin the experience for everyone.
You can use a mask to stir up the “bad” but once someone rips it off, it’s going to be time to put on your big kid pants and take responsibility for it. Think about that the next time you have a desire to spread negativity across communities online.