Online Anonymity – A Blessing Or A Curse?

Anonymity

For most of us, the Internet has become a essential staple of our day-to-day lives. We live through the online world by reading the news, watching media, listening to music and participating in blog sites (obviously- you’re here reading this article!)

Something I’ve always found interesting about the Internet, however, is the anonymity that it can afford people and what they choose do with it. You run into this in various places… chat rooms, blog sites, etc… and it’s always interesting to me that people are willing to say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone face-to-face, all because of their relative anonymity.

Online psychology and behavior expert, Psy.D. John M. Grohol states the following on his website:

Anonymity is a double-edged sword when it comes to an online community. While anonymity may allow people to feel more free and disinhibited to discuss otherwise embarrassing or stigmatizing topics, it can also be a community’s biggest enemy. Anonymity allows people to hide behind their computers while saying whatever they want with little ramification. Pair that disinhibition with anonymity and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

For anyone who has ever spent time on a “dating” website (oh please, you know we mean Manhunt), or an online chat room like gay.com, you’ve undoubtedly come across situations where someone has sent you a pictureless chat request or message that starts with something akin to “I want to F$&% you sideways.” Now, while this might happen to you in a face-to-face encounter that involves copious amounts of alcohol, the online medium allows the writer to say whatever they want without losing face… so to speak.

Before I started writing blogs, I was a blog reader. I’ve left comments on other blogs I’ve read and/or on online publications of news articles when they’ve struck a nerve with me (whether for good or bad), and have always been intrigued by the running dialogue that ensues with these types of comments. I really enjoy being a part of these “conversations”, and wonder about the people leaving the other comments: who are they; where do they come from; what’s their story…

Being a part of the homorazzi.com cast and posting my own blog has given me a new perspective on this, and it’s something that I find even more fascinating. For me, one of the biggest thrills after writing an article is seeing it get comments posted about it. Whether the comments are good or bad, the fact that someone took the time to read my article and it did enough for them to leave a comment makes me excited. Obviously there are some comments that will rub me the wrong way- just like they would for anyone else- but at the end of the day, if it’s a serious comment, I respect the fact that they’ve taken the time to write it.

Having said all that… it’s been an interesting experience for me to be involved in some of the back-end workings of the homorazzi site and seeing people start to post comments using multiple names or identities. Don’t get me wrong, pseudonyms are a common enough thing in any type of writing- especially when it comes to being online- but what I mean is that it’s been really interesting to see comments (most of which are negative) come in that we know are from the same “real” person- but that have different names & email addresses associated with them. The comments range from mean-spirited; to constructive; to kind and supportive, but the overall value of them as a collective whole is damaged because they don’t come from the single voice who is posting them.

Sometimes online anonymity can be such a blessing: allowing people to experience content and discussions that aid them in their personal lives without repercussion, as evidenced by this comment on the Stephen’s Kylie post:

“…im so ENVIOUS – wish i could get to a state of accepting me and loving my gayness….so really for us HOMOs this HOMO view on everything and seeing the gay cuties on this site talking about their gay lives is a good service so we can live vicariously through them i suppose until we (the closeted) are able to accept and start living like these men. so please dont stop–we need this ‘reality tv’ of gayish stuff to keep us sane till yea…so gays pray that i gay closeted homo man can accept me and start living like you. thanks lol.
bye.”

But, just as Mr. Grohol said in the previously mentioned quote, anonymity can hurt as much as help, and can ignite behavior such as the emails/chat messages I mentioned at the beginning of the article, and even some of the comments we’ve seen here on the site. Again, I don’t say that because some of the comments are negative- the entire cast appreciates any constructive criticism- but because the poster has opted to pretend to be different people rather than using their own voice.

So there you have it- another one of the wonders created by the online world! The anonymity created by the Internet and the freedom enjoyed and abused by people is here to stay… what will you do with it?

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