For months now, I’ve been circling around the subject of how online anonymity and abusive behavior seems to be inextricably linked.
When the internet first started out in any serious way, say 15-20 years, ‘being anonymous’ was part of its whole mystique. Anonymous people could go into anonymous ‘chat rooms’ online (remember that era?) and say and do whatever they wanted, mostly disgusting and probably illegal.
Then, that was followed by the rise of anonymous bloggers, who mistakenly thought that no-one could ever track them down if they were using a fake name, or no name. That worked for a while, but then the governments fought back, and started what is becoming an ever-tighter crack-down on what’s being said online.
I remember one anonymous blog in the UK, called ‘Civil Serf’, where the spy agencies were basically brought in to track down the anonymous writer, as whoever he / she / it was, they were making HM Government look really bad.
(As someone who used to work there, I can tell you it was still falling far short of the gory truth.)
Then, anonymous blogs started to catch on in the orthodox Jewish world too - and all these closet atheists started ‘coming out’, anonymously, online, as hating their religion and their communities. Inevitably, sooner or later their neighbors figured out who they were, and many of these bloggers ended up having to shut up, or to put a real name to their writing – and leaving their communities, marriages, kids and home as a result.
Was it worth it?
I’d love to ask them that.
Then, social media and free-for-all comments on internet forums became the name of the game – and this is where ‘Anonymous Psychos Online’ season really began in earnest. So many people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose in person started unleashing all their pent up anger, rage, frustration, jealousy and generally disgusting negative, personality disorder-ed character traits all over social media.
Twitter was a blue sea of expletives and insults; Facebook walls were defaced by personal attacks, slander, insults – and of course, the inevitable expletives.
Online forums were just an excuse for people to start bashing other people and cutting strangers down to size. And for a year or two, venturing online was like banging open the doors of the OK Corral: you never knew when someone was going to challenge you to a duel, or just shoot you straight through the heart and have done.
Lucky for me, I was offline for most of this really yucky period of time. I had internet addiction issues, so I decided to have no WiFi in the house, and to just go to the library to do my emailing and post up my blog posts.
I did that for 7 years, and I’m so grateful, because it’s become increasingly obvious to me that:
This crucial break from the internet is what kept me sane, as a blogger and writer.
yAs part of the crackdown on the internet, which has some massive cons, as well as a few massive pros, that overtly abusive behavior is now being tolerated far less online. Most of the news channels have removed their comments sections. Most internet forums have ceased to be, or have beefed up their rules and regulations. Most comments today are moderated before they can go up – something the technology couldn’t do so well, initially.
Of course, a lot of this is leading to choking political correctness too, so it’s a double-edged sword. But there is now much less of a laisser faire attitude to abusing other people online, or being perceived to be abusing other people online, which is where all the politically correct minefields and arguments over ‘fake news’ are now exploding.
Because many psychos are now using political correctness as the excuse they need to carry on abusing other people, ostensibly for not being politically correct enough, and not thinking exactly the way they do about things.
But let’s get back to the discussion of Anonymous Psychos Online, because that’s what I really want to talk about today.
In a nutshell, where five years ago it was ‘standard’ for many people to be anonymous online, today, it’s increasingly a sign that there’s something not quite right going on.
If a person can’t put their real name, and their real identity, and their real circumstances to their comments and articles, that has to beg the question why?
What have they got to hide?
If they’re just commenting on other people’s stuff in a critical, confrontational way, then the answer is obvious: they want to hide behind an anonymous persona, because they don’t want to take responsibility for all the poisonous, factually incorrect, insulting and mentally-ill stuff they are putting out there.
Anonymous commentators just want to keep blasting away at other people’ issues, and the more ‘anonymous’ they are, the less fallout they think they’ll have to deal with from people calling them out on their own stuff.
It’s the online equivalent of a hit-and run.
A couple of years back, I got pulled into commenting anonymously myself once or twice, and I felt so ucky afterwards that I promised myself that in future, if I couldn’t use my real name to say something, that was a clear sign that I shouldn’t be saying it.
And that’s what got me pondering about how emotionally unhealthy a person would have to be to want to stay totally anonymous.
Again, if you’re anonymously posting up sweet, encouraging comments to people, that’s probably a different category.
I’m talking about the ‘permanently anonymous’ people who have been around the block so many times, they’ve insulted so many people with their abrasive, insulting comments, they’ve built up such a long list of enemies, and such a reputation for being completely cuckoo, that if they post up anything with their real name on it, they know:
So far, we’ve just been talking about the problems inherent with anonymous comments.
But then, you have the bloggers and online writers themselves, which is where the question of anonymity becomes even thornier.
Personally, I believe if you can’t write something that is non-fiction (even when it’s just a comment!) with your real name, you shouldn’t be doing it. (Fiction is a whole other story, and there is no moral issue with a ‘fictional’ person writing fiction.)
There are some clear exceptions to this, like dissidents in countries where they could be tortured or killed for saying things the people in power don’t want to be said (or heard…) (and the way things are going, this could soon be spreading to France and the US, too.)
I also think it’s OK to have occasional posts put up by ‘anonymous’ writers, or writers using a pseudonym, when they are covering extremely personal or emotional subjects in a non-fictional setting.
But I tell you why I’m against permanent anonymity, even in these cases, and that’s because there is something about writing anonymously online that encourages people to devolve into opinionated, narrow-minded, abusive psychos.
It seems to me to be a form of disassociation, where the blogger, the writer. develops an ‘online persona’ that is often completely disconnected from the reality of who that person really is, and how they are actually living their life.
If someone is only posting up cake recipes, then fair enough, who they really are actually doesn’t matter. But when people are having opinions about real things, or trying to persuade you of a certain viewpoint, or sharing ‘information’ that may or may not be true, may or not may be manufactured and manipulated, may or not be reflecting an obvious bias or vested interest – then you really need to know where that person is actually coming from.
Especially if the subject is at all contentious, or the person is setting themselves up as some sort of ‘expert’ or advisor who wants other people to listen to them.
If someone is aspiring to be a spiritual mentor, guru, relationship advisor, or religious leader, then you for sure have to know 100% what is actually going on in that person’s own life, before you can make an informed choice about whether they are a good, healthy and balanced source of information, influence and advice.
If you knew someone was divorced, would you pick them for advice on holding a marriage together? If you knew someone was emotionally abusive to their friends and families, is that the person you’d turn to for advice on how to deal with other people? If you knew someone’s parenting approach meant that a few of their kids had cut them out of their life as adults, would you still approach them for tips on how to handle Junior?
If you knew a person wasn’t practicing what they regularly preached – and often doing the exact opposite – would you still be lapping up their opinions, or taking their advice at all seriously?
I know I wouldn’t.
But that’s what is happening all the time, with anonymous bloggers and writers who split their supposed ‘wisdom’ and knowledge off from the reality of their actual lives.
There’s always more to say, and no doubt I will return to this subject again at some point.
But in the meantime, I put this little chart together, which basically sums up the main point of this post:
The more ‘anonymous’ a person is online, the more dysfunctional they probably are, and the more abusive and / or damaging they will probably end up being, to other people.
So caveat emptor.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a pronounced correlation with the amount of ‘news’ a person feels compelled to consume, and a marked deterioration in their mental health. Even back in the old days, before everyone was addicted to internet and iPhones and endless, poisonous ‘look at me’ tweets and Instagram notifications, news could still have a serious impact on a person’s outlook and mood.
Stocks are falling through the floor!!! (Cue to jump off a bridge, if you own stocks, or at the very least develop a very bad attack of peptic ulcers.)
Russia is going to nuke us!!! (Cue to lose all your joie de vivre, and to spend endless hours worrying about being vaporized by a Commie bomb.)
Butter is bad for your heart!!! (Cue to feel all guilty every time you put a pat of that creamy yellow stuff anywhere near your bread, or frying pan. And guess what they were pushing on the unsuspecting public instead of that ‘dangerous’ butter? Yup, you got it: margarine.)
It could be that once upon a time, the mainstream news was actually useful, contained some real facts, and wasn’t just a soap-box for big business and corrupt politicians to brainwash everyone into believing their own version of reality.
It could be.
But these days, that’s almost definitely not the case.
Most of the mainstream news is so devoid of anything that you could actually call useful, or factual, or even true, and so full of pessimism, manipulation, brain-washing and opinionated craziness, that the best way to deal with it is just to stay far, far away.
Because when you log on to a news site every five minutes, when you listen to those news announcers droning on about whatever it is they are trying to brainwash you into believing and thinking, when you buy into the idea that the only ‘news’ worth reporting and sharing is bad news, and angry news, and hateful news – that has a seriously negative impact on your mental health.
It can easily bring you down. It can easily make you angry. It can easily get your paranoid. It can easily make you feel like the sky is crashing down, and send your anxiety shooting through the roof.
Go cold turkey on the news
Yes, it’s true that there are many bad things happening in the world, including fatal car crashes, civil wars, and even (shock!) Roseanne getting dumped from her own TV show.
But so what?
Do you know how many good things are happening in the world? How many nice people there are out there? I’m guessing you probably don’t, if your only source of information is the news.
So, if you’re dealing with anxiety, worry, hatred, anger, paranoid, apathy, jealousy – basically, all those negative character traits that we all have in spades, especially if we consume a lot of information – then here’s the single best thing you can do for your mental health:
Go cold turkey on the news.
If it’s really important and really relevant to your life, I guarantee you’ll find out about it anyway. And if it isn’t – who needs it?
Who needs to waste all that energy and headspace being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ Trump? Who needs to read more scare stories about humans causing global warming, and Russians being behind ever dark and despicable deed ever known to man? (Really? They are only behind half.)
And if I can add another piece of advice here, it’s this: also go cold turkey on bloggers who are obsessed with the news.
Because most of those folks are certifiably crazy. If someone has nothing better to do with their time than give second-hand opinions about third-rate news – why are you wasting the precious moments of your life by reading what they have to say?!
Go for a walk instead, go paint a picture, call a friend, play a game with your kid, read a good book, practice the lost art of thinking for yourself.
Do something, anything, instead of imbibing the deranged viewpoints of internet crazy people.
I promise you, you’ll feel so, so much better if you do.
Because really, the only good news is no news.
After writing a few posts on internet addiction, and on how too much time online grows out of some sort of profound 'lack' in real life, it suddenly struck me (like, duh!) that I also have some big lacks that I'm using the internet to fill.
The most pronounced of these is just straight up trying to interact with people. I keep moving location... I don't work out of the house.... I don't have any close family in the same country... My kids are older now, and I don't know the parents of their friends, or have school events to meet new people at.... I'm still struggling to find a synagogue where I feel I really 'fit'.
All this means I have a big lack in my day-to-day interactions with real, live people.
The last week or so, as I've been trying to spend way less time online, that lack has been popping up with way more forcefulness.
But how do I fix this?
So many people today are 'disconnected', and hiding behind anonymity online and addictions to ersatz internet relationships. Now that I'm starting to dry out from my own online obsession, at least a little, I realise just how hard it is to meet real people.
So many of us are scared that the other person is going to end up being a psycho, or more trouble than they're worth, so we're all keeping each other at arm's length.
I don't know what the answer is right now, I'm thinking out loud.
But I can see that getting more 'real' and getting away from the internet is a much bigger mountain than I thought.
"Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset, according to the company’s founding president Sean Parker." - The Guardian
The first thing to understand is that social media was made to be addictive on purpose. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp – whatever the social media platform(s) you’re addicted to, they were all designed to keep stimulating your brain in exactly the way required to create some sort of mental dependency.
Why did they do that?
Because more users = more influence = more money.
That’s why Facebook has a nasty 30 day limit before it will really let you delete your profile, because it wants to give enough time for any resolution you made to come off Facebook to crack into pieces, and make it as easy as possible for you to go back in to the addiction.
Nice, isn’t it?
So, how can you get out of it?
Cold turkey is one route, but cold turkey doesn’t work for most people (not least, because of the sneaky tricks companies like Facebook are using to keep people hooked.) So instead, the answer is to try to take the time you spend on this stuff down by small increments, on a regular basis.
[I should just mention here that I got rid of all my social media, except Linked In, last year, so I’m not 100% up-do-date on the interfaces being used now, so what I’m suggesting here are broad-brush ideas.]
How can you do this? Here’s some practical suggestions:
It’s very easy to over-ride the password if you DO want to visit these sites, but having an extra obstacle makes it much, much easier to avoid impulse, knee-jerk visits that you really are just making out of force of habit. If you’re REALLY serious about putting these sites off-limits, have someone else K-9 them for you on your PC, without telling you the password they’re using to do that.
4) Don’t do anything anonymously. Sticking to this one, simple rule will help you stay out of a whole lot of trouble online, and take down a lot of the ‘thrill’ of surfing. If you can’t stick your real name on a comment, if you can’t openly visit a certain site, or group as your real self – don’t do it. It’s just feeding the dark side of your personality that is keeping you chained to the internet.
But, as with all addictions, there are deeper reasons for why you keep logging back in, so you may also want to spend some time doing the following:
1)Figure out how much time you’re actually spending on social media every day. Make a note of when you log on, and when you log off, over a 72 hour period. The answer will probably shock you, and it will help you to get more motivated to use that time on stuff that will actually nourish your life and your soul, instead of depleting it.
2)Find out what negative emotion is ‘pushing’ you to use social media. Here’s a few of the most likely culprits:
c.Apathy & despair
e.Sadness & depression
g.Frustration & anger
Once you know what negative emotion is triggering your social media use, then you can take steps to try to deal with it in a more productive way.
EG, if a sense of loneliness is causing you to feel you need to ‘grab some attention online’ by doing or saying something risqué, aggressive, ‘edgy’, or outrageous – think about what real, positive activities you could be doing with a real person instead. Doesn’t have to be anything to set the world on fire – could just be a walk in the park, or a bit of window shopping, or meeting up for a coffee.
(If you really want to take this up a level, try visiting an old age home – I guarantee you’ll find tens of people who would be only too happy to have someone to talk to, and to take an interest in.)
Meanwhile, to take another very common example, angry and frustrated people are just looking for some opportunity to knock someone else over online, or to make a ‘clever’ comment at someone else’s expense, or to try to blow a hole in someone else’s sense of well-being.
Doing this gives them a sense of feeling powerful, and important, and in control. And ironically, it’s exactly this that is actually missing in their REAL life.
So, the idea is the fill the ‘hole’ in your life that is currently full of social media with other, real, more productive things that will really give you something tangible back. But before you can figure that you, you first need to know what negative emotion is triggering your surfing habits.
3. Find productive REAL ways of doing whatever gives you a kick on social media. If you like debating ideas, consider taking a course somewhere that will enable you to do that. If you like finding new recipes online, go buy yourself a gorgeous cookbook (or borrow one from the library).
If you like knowing how your friend’s holiday really was – call them up and ask them!If you still need a bit more of a ‘push’ to get off, take a look at this video. It kind of hits the nail right on the head. (This has a couple of shots of women in it, buyer beware).
And the last thing to say, as always, is to pray on it.
God can turn anything around - even a soul-destroying addiction to the internet.