Under the Cloak of Anonymity

Online hostilities are common – they can happen to any twitter user, blogger, or anybody who is connected to the internet. Behaviors of online hostility are usually signified by the use of personal attacks against the other person, despite no previous arguments that were directly targeted at them. I believe that the internet is a great medium for free speech, but to what extent does free speech gives you the right to be hostile to one another? I wonder, did online civility died? Or has it ever existed in the first place?

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Online hostilities are common – they can happen to any twitter user, blogger, or anybody who is connected to the internet. Behaviors of online hostility are usually signified by the use of personal attacks against the other person, despite no previous arguments that were directly targeted at them. I believe that the internet is a great medium for free speech, but to what extent does free speech gives you the right to be hostile to one another? I wonder, did online civility died? Or has it ever existed in the first place?

Trolls, as these perpetrators of online hostility are usually called, conduct behaviors of trolling, in which PC Magazine have defined as:

“Posting derogatory messages about sensitive subjects on newsgroups and chat rooms to bait users into responding”[1]

CiviliNation, a global non-profit organization that promotes responsible and accountable engagement in cyberspace, have more or less explained what exactly is online hostility. Its actions include, but not limited to:

  • Rude comments aimed at target
  • Teasing or mocking target
  • Insulting and name-calling
  • Ad hominem attacks against target
  • Criticism of target’s appearance, age, gender, race, intellect, and so forth[2]

You would think that online hostility might not be a problem, it’s harmless, and its existence in the virtual space will have no physical effect whatsoever to the person that’s being attacked. On the contrary, cases of online hostility, or cyber-bullying as one might also say, have psychological impacts that might harm a person’s well being.[3]

The reason why it is so easy for a person to be hostile to one another in the internet, is because we are often shrouded in this cloak of anonymity, as one often only sees a username with no face, no emotions, nor personality to be attached to that username.

I would argue that one would behave differently if you know the human being behind the username personally in the real world. Since you only know them in the virtual world, it is as if your duty to be civilized is released and you are entitled to not use your common sense. Well, you don’t. Anonymity goes only so far, your email address, your ip address, can be traced back to you and in the end, you’re you – a human being gifted with feelings and the capacity for rational thinking,

Disagreements are common, and it is actually encouraged. If I can recall, there’s a saying that if there’s two person agreeing about something, that means the other person is not thinking. How one handles the disagreement, is a skill and some are not emotionally adept to situations where they experience the disagreements. Debates are useful, they foster critical thinking, but I believe it should be conducted in a proper manner.

That being said, you can’t prevent trolls being the trolls that they are. They are always going to be there, instigating any provocative comments and insulting remarks to another user. They thrive for the spotlight – which is often not worth of your time. Troll prevention methods are usually embedded in the web service that you subscribe to, and use it wisely. Bloggers, you can moderate your comments. Twitter users, you do have the option to block other users – although you can simply ignore them in the first place.

I like to write, I like to blog, I tweet, and I basically embrace the fact that I have the right to voice out my opinions. With the creation of the internet, I believe it has created the greater means to do so.

My point is, be polite, be safe, be responsible. You are who you are, no matter how many layers of anonymity that you have put upon yourself.

The internet can be either a benefit or a cost to the community, depending how the community guards it as their trustworthy social network, a place where their voices can be heard without being subject to any derogative or penalizing comments from other users.

I hope this community of Jakarta Post’s Public Blog can do the same.


[1] PC Magazine Encyclopedia, “Trolling Definition”, last accessed 25 April 2011, http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=trolling&i=53181,00.asp#

[2] CiviliNation, “What exactly is Online Hostility?”, January 20 2011, http://civilination.org/2011/01/what-exctly-is-online-hostility/

[3] Millie Anne Cavanaugh “Cyberbullying can have deadly consequences”, last accessed 25 April 2011, http://www.aspeneducation.com/Article-cyberbulling-consequences.html

6 thoughts on “Under the Cloak of Anonymity”

  1. Love this post. “I like to write, I like to blog, I tweet, and I basically embrace the fact that I have the right to voice out my opinions. With the creation of the internet, I believe it has created the greater means to do so.” –> Me toooo!!

    Oh, does this has something to do -or inspired by- that crazy dude who spammed your post? 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Hi Pipi. Let’s just say that I was ‘compelled’ to write this due to recent events in the IMO Blogosphere.

      Thanks, dear.

  2. quite agree on the topic, yet couldn’t help but wonder about the title, merely the same with an older one literally about the same thing: the blogosphere hit & run assault

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