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.