Friday, January 11, 2013


"Anonymous" is a term signifying an immediate image: usually some hooded figure or something like that. With the group Anonymous, the word has started being associated with Guy Fawkes masks and Internet hackers. With the recent Steubenville rape case and Anonymous' reaction to it, I have been thinking about the power of anonymity especially as it pertains to the Internet.

An anonymous person could be anyone. Literally anyone. This is obvious from the definition of "anonymous", of course, and it's easy to simply say it but, if the meaning is truly grasped, is so mind-blowing it's incredulous. There are so many possible identities that person could have, so many personalities, so many struggles. It could even be anyone we know, someone who had a side completely foreign to us. From day to day, most people live as stymied selves. Out in the open, most present fronts and control their hazardous impulses. They worry (rightfully so) about the consequences of their actions. Their name is attached to them and they are accountable for anything that is said. 

However, in online anonymity, they are free of that burden. The results are mixed.
In many ways, this causes people to show the primal sides of themselves that they hadn't explored before. Often, people express their rage, insecurity, lust, revealing their truly pathetic nature. It is not uncommon to see cruelty and stupidity all over the Internet. YouTubers are routinely harassed for their appearance and subjected to other harsh criticism and objectification (especially if they're female). It is also not uncommon for people to leave spam comments or, worse yet, "troll" or leave shocking comments on a video with an intent to start an argument. As I said, there are also people who are just downright stupid in their comments that vary in the level of sheer stupidity, doing everything from pulling magical facts out of their ass or stating incredibly ignorant opinions. These people don't need to answer to anyone or anything in the Internet anarchy machine they inhabit and, sadly, some take advantage of that.
The negative sides of anonymity have been stated numerous times, though. The positives, however, have not. This is a shame because there are truly beneficial sides to anonymity that most people don't mention.

Anonymity gives you the freedom to say whatever you want to say. Often, this gives people the freedom to say the opinions that they wouldn't have other had the courage to say. Sometimes, these people have truly great ideas that they have kept silent for fear of retaliation; sometimes, YouTube gives them an outlet. On YouTube and other commenting/ forum places, they can say what needs to be said and positively impact someone. Through anonymity, these people can explore ideas that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to explore and engage in interesting debates that they wouldn't have otherwise had. All of this would have been impossible without anonymity. And, also, yes, people can be stupid but that can be a good thing too. Sometimes, a place to be stupid can be a good thing. Human beings need to be stupid and make mistakes before they can move forward, after all, and that includes intellectual thoughts. Anonymity can give them the ability to be corrected and to learn. Sometimes, anonymity can even power someone to ask for help. Most of all, though, anonymity allows people privacy, keeping them safe online and their beliefs and habits private from people who might discriminate them. In many ways, anonymity makes the Internet a safer place yet, at the same time, a worse one. 

I think anonymity is integral to the Internet, though, and I think it's the reason why it's been so successful. But that might change. Google has been pressuring its users to release their full names in YouTube comments. I disagree with this. If they release my name, I will have no choice but to refrain from commenting or to make up an alias. Without anonymity, I wouldn't be able to reveal my thoughts. Sometimes, being anonymous is the only way to stay safe.

Now, in terms of Anonymous? I suppose they make it somewhat easier to commit cybercrime and to cover it up as well as to endanger other people through hacking. In theory, I should be opposed to what they're doing in the Steubenville case because they're obstructing justice. I'm not, though. What they did was very brave and they are bring to justice when there would have otherwise been none. Yes we are not giving them a "fair trial" but with a rape case in a rape culture, the odds are stacked in favor of the rapist. In this regard, anonymity has empowered Anonymous to do something very courageous and they are, as I said before, saying what needs to be said (or shown what needs to be shown in the case of the video released).

I suppose that brings another point: some people simply don't deserve anonymity. As (possibly potential) rapists, these boys have (most likely) committed a violent crime. The fact that they have done so makes them a (potential) threat to society and thus people need to be notified of their presence. The fact that they are juveniles does not diminish this fact. Anonymity is a privilege and, if abused, is one that deserves to be lost. I cannot know when this is the case because there are so many shades of gray there. So when can we deduce that anonymity should be lost? I don't quite know.

Anonymity is a mixed bag. But it is whatever people make it and it appears that it's here to stay. We, as the Internet community and as people, can each decide whether to use our anonymity for to do good or to do harm. However, we all must take responsibility for what goes on the Internet and elsewhere when we are anonymous. Because, in many ways, each and every person is Anonymous. 


  1. Personally...way back when I created a MyHogwarts account as part of the beta program, I knew I wasn't entirely comfortable putting my real name on there. Partly because...well, obviously, that's my name, it doesn't need to be all over the internet. And partly because I like being able to take on a different persona. I'm mostly a boring person, I read a lot, and I do crafts. I grew up in a terrible town and I've got some issues related to that. My name is linked to that, in my mind. So I made up Jess. Most of the stuff I do online as Jess, I wouldn't do under my real name...not because it's bad, but because saying anything, anywhere involves sticking my neck out, and I don't tend to do that. But for months now, I've been debating with a "Men's Rights Advocate" as Jess, and it makes me feel safe to know that no matter how our debates go, she cannot find me.

  2. That's really interesting. What's the debate with the Men's Rights advocate about? I like to debate with people on YouTube too, although I like to keep it as friendly chatter. I also forgot to thank you for your help in your comment about AP classes, so thank you now.
    What made you choose your particular alias, by the way?

  3. Have you ever heard of the author Tamora Pierce? She co-created an online forum called SheroesCentral that I'm a member of. We have lots of different boards on there, including one that is specifically called "Blowing off Steam" that is for exactly that.
    One day, a user posted a rant on that board about a guy she's friends with on Facebook who posted all this stuff about men's rights and reverse sexism and so on, and he posted a link to this letter:
    Anywho, long story short, the lady who wrote that letter, Suz, noticed Sheroes as one of the websites she was getting traffic from, and promptly wrote a blog post about us, bashing us for the age and gender she assumed we all had (that is, young and female).
    Then ignored polite responses from one of our members explaining that this is our no-holds-barred board, not meant for debate, and she obviously isn't going to get a great impression from that.

    I suck at staying quiet, and I *LOVE* debates, so I started debating with her, and we've been going back and forth ever since. She has good points here and there, but we come to different conclusions about these points. I've always loved debating...I can't strengthen my argument if nobody tears holes in it. A fair chunk of the debate is in the comments of that Sheroes post. There's some that's in the comments of a post about "Why Is The Spearhead One of the Leading Men's Sites", and she very kindly mentioned me in a post titled "Class and No Class".

    Glad I could help, and good luck!!

    I mentioned that I created the alias when I was registering for MyHogwarts. The first name that popped into my head when registering for the site was "Emma Watson". Obviously, using that would be weird. And even Watson is a little bit over-the-top. But "Watts" is a decent last name. Then I just started thinking of first names. I think "Jessica" ended up winning because that was the name of a character in the most recent book I'd read, but this was nearly a year ago, so don't quote me. Plus, it lends itself to "Jess", "Jessie", and the like. My real name is not nickname-able, on purpose, so I kind of wanted a nickname.

    1. That MRA lady's rant is honestly pretty scary, not going to lie. It's rare that I see that much misogyny and slut shaming in one blog post. *shudders* I agree with some of her points, of course, but I wonder where her disdain of women has come from. I'm glad she respects you, though, because it's clear from her post that she thinks very highly of you.

      Anyway, yes, I have heard of Tamora Pierce and I love her books! I actually was a part of Sheroes long ago but my account became inactive somewhere along the line.