Happy new year everyone, I hope the next year brings plenty of happiness for us all. To break in the new year, after receiving some unpleasant responses from some men on a personal social media account, I thought it was about time to talk about being anonymous. It’s unfortunate that abuse online from anonymous sources is frequent, unsurprising and often of a cruel nature. From cyber bullying to using social media to harass and threaten people, it’s nothing new.
There are plenty of reasons for staying anonymous online, one being freedom and another safety. These are far from the only reasons for remaining anonymous, but they’re the ones I’m going to discuss. They’re the ones I believe to be the most important and interesting.
What do I mean by freedom?
Freedom is a versatile and multi layered concept, meaning a poetic image of a bird in flight, an illusion within a dystopian society or indeed the making of actions without consequence. I’m going to focus on the third meaning for this article and how this perceived freedom is often a dual edged sword. Best demonstrated by the option to allow anon questions on tumblr.
For those of you who don’t know, tumblr is a blogging platform with a large user base of young adults. If you go onto someone’s blog there’s the option for them to display a Q&A page where fellow users can send you questions with their blog’s identity alongside it. However, there is also an option to allow ‘anonymous’ questions which hides the asker’s identity, who could be a tumblr user or not. As a feature anonymous asks present a great way to gain feedback from non users of the site and support from those who would feel awkward if their identity was revealed. But, and it’s a big but (eh he he), this option can also result in receiving anonymous or ‘anon’ abuse.
The relative freedom of being anonymous allows us to reach out to people we don’t know, but it also allows exploitation to say whatever we want, hurtful, cruel things without any clear consequences. As a model, what I’ve described can be applied to nearly every form of social media where asking anon questions or creating ‘fake’ accounts is easy to do. The disconnect of saying horrible things to a computer screen means no one really gets hurt. Right?
At this point, or earlier most likely, you’ll have noticed I use a pseudonym ‘floating manatee’ (I know it’s shocking this isn’t my real name). The reason why is simple, safety. With a consequence of that safety being, freedom. Time and again women’s blogs, twitter accounts and other platforms have been hacked/attacked (heads up Rebecca). So I’m conscious of my online presence, I know a pseudonym isn’t infallible, but it’s better than nothing.
In my bio I call myself Alice and yeah that’s my real name (or is it? *xfiles theme plays*), but I’d prefer to be a manatee most of the time. Especially when online, writing about issues I write about which make people very angry, sometimes violently so. It’s sad I don’t feel safe using my real name online, but sometimes you have to pick your battles, or in this case your avatar, mine’s a manatee.
Safety is a thin veil on the internet that can work in conjunction with the freedom to write what you want without fear of harassment, or in some cases any consequences for things you say in anger. Yet as some people find, it really is a thin veil that can be ripped off just as easily when you break the law for say, sending death threats (not so funny when people enact them amirite?). As thin as my veil is I think I’ll continue to wear it for another year.
It’s quite fun being a feminist manatee, at least online.
If you’re interested in helping stop online harassment here are some great campaigns: