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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Internet Anonymity

In today's society online anonymity provides us with uncensored freedom of expression. There are numerous cases facilitated through the use of online anonymity in which cyber-bullies have created unimaginable harm to others by posting their prejudice views - whether it be racist, sexist, homophobic, or just plain derogatory in nature, to psychologically ridicule another person or a group of people. I would argue cyber-bullying is comparable to a hate crime, defined by the United Nations as an attack against  the very identity of a victim. In cases outlined by the former, I believe that any type of harmful bullying remarks or online commentary should be immediately deleted, the perpetrator's account should be shut down, and their identity brought to the attention of the general public and authorities to deal with accordingly.

Those who make derogatory comments are aware their hateful words are harmful to others. An orientation toward social dominance, masked behind the anonymity of the cyber world is a dangerous recipe for psychological warfare at the hands of innocent victims who have done nothing to provoke outside hate toward their identity.  Hello there, Racists and Jezebel highlights individuals who hurt others through their words - namely those who have made derogatory comments toward the President of the United States, Barack Obama, based on his race. The comments shown in the site are examples of how some people post anything without thinking about it, simply because their identity is anonymous. What is interesting about these sites is they actually show the original posts and feeds from "anonymous" individuals who have made these comments through outside networks such as Twitter and Facebook and controversially reveals their identity for the general public to see.

In my opinion, this counter-measure to combat cyber-bullying derived from online anonymity, is reasonable. Having the real identity of a prejudiced cyber-bully matched with their offensive online persona and shared with the general public places them in the spotlight they deserve. It shows them for who they really are. We all may hold certain schema based stereotypes which inwardly projects prejudice, but outwardly we know this is unfair and wrong. We do not explicitly express these affect based thoughts but instead we control our thinking and we rationally understand these prejudice views are wrong. Those who fail to do so are simply ignorant or so high in prejudice the line between right and wrong has become blurred.

Some argue revealing the identity of these cyber bullies is unfair on the grounds that it can potentially ruin ties for the perpetrator between family, friends, career opportunities, and the like. Counter this argument with the psychological damage done to individuals on the receiving end of these bullies words - some leading to cases of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Is that fair? No. Additionally, by exposing perpetrators' identities it allows authorities to intervene and provide perpetrators with the help they need to understand the real world application of their words and the repercussions that follow for the victims of their prejudice. This is especially the case for children and young adults who engage in this type of behavior who may only continue to do so into their later years if they are never taught not to hate and the erroneous ways of their thinking are believed to hold zero consequences.

Rehtaeh Parsons is a bone-chilling case example where extreme online bullying through sexually explicit photographs and commentary posts forced a young girl to take her own life out of sheer embarrassment  This is a prime example of why I draw analogous ties between cyber-bullying to hate crimes.  The police not intervening in the Parsons situation before anything happened was a great mistake. Police should be in the service of protecting people and by ignoring the evidence provided to them and not acting upon it shows injustice within the system. I think we are often just too quick to dismiss cyber crimes and accompanying evidence as unimportant, nonfactual, or "kids just being kids". While there may be a grain of truth to this I think we have severely underestimated the power of the cyber world on real life as we know it and are now paying for our ignorance through the growing body of documented cases of cyber bullying leading numerous young children to their death. Another factor potentially contributing to this ignorance of the online world is a cohort difference. Many of the online users who are both perpetrators and victims of cyber bullying are children and young adults of generation Y - a generation of the new millennium whose daily activities are largely overshadowed by the cyber world. In contrast to the authority figures who have the power to intervene in these issues coming from generation X, a generation not as cyber savvy who in consequence place less emphasis on the cyber world and underestimate the power of the internet in children's lives.

Overall my position on cyber bullying is to put those who support and participate in these activities to shame in the same way they have put their victims by sharing their true identities with the public and allowing them to experience the same ridicule they have left others to. Hopefully, by doing this those individuals will learn their lesson, understand the flaw in their prejudice, and refrain from re-offending. We owe it to those who have taken their lives at the hands of cyber-bullies, we owe it to those who have experienced prejudice and psychological harm via the cyber world, and we owe it to ourselves to contribute to building a better society - both on and offline.


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