Anonymous Audiences

// Posted by on 03/29/2012 (10:04 AM)

After reading Chris Poole’s argument for anonymity online I began to wonder about the pros and cons. Anonymity has been able to bring people together to act benevolently, such as the efforts to catch the cat abuser. At the same time, anonymity permits us to act maliciously as highlighted by online bulling in Schwartz’s article. Why will we go out of our way to avenge cat abusers but we can’t call someone out for being rude online?

Part of this is propelled by the anonymity of the audience. Not only is the person who publishes this information anonymous, but so is the audience viewing the information. It makes it easy for people to enjoy reading these posts without the public conscious of worrying how others see you as a bystander. If you saw someone being beat on the street others around you would judge you for not stopping to help; however, online there is no incentive to step in. Instead you can sit and be a voyeur of the harassment without judgment.

There is a certain curiosity that we fulfill reading about these scenarios. It fascinates us to know about these relations; however, the minutes that we become the subject of the jokes and scrutiny we begin to feel differently about the abuse.  For those in the trolling community they feel a sense of pride in the amount of emotional disruption they can cause – sometimes to the extent that they can keep score:

“ “Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.” – Schwartz, The Trolls Among Us.

Oftentimes we don’t take the time to prevent these issues until something bad happens. Tyler Clementi committed suicide after he was the subject of online bullying. In response to his the death the “It Gets Better” project was started to inspire the young LBGT community. Online harassment occurs all the time; however, we normally nothing is done in response. Anonymously, we are all willing to be non-acting bystanders.  When Juicy Campus was popular at Richmond everyone was willing to read the gossip until the jokes and rumors were pointed at them.

We need to recognize our position as bystanders in situations. It is easy to be an “innocent bystander” but those days are over. We are now becoming more responsible for our actions even though we are not aware of it. Some groups have learned to take advantage of our role as bystanders. Anonymous used its voyeurs as a tool one of its schemes to take down the Department of Justice. Unknowingly several of the bystanders on their site were used in some of their illegal activities.  I think all of these examples serve as evidence that we need to be more conscious of our role online. We may be anonymous but it does not mean that people aren’t watching what were doing online.

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Allison said...

Natalie brings up a really insightful point about being an online bystander. The Office of Student Activities has made a large effort to increase the awareness of bystanders on the University of Richmond campus. They have made many presentations to various groups on campus all in the spirit of keeping students safe. The emphasize is on preventing undesirable incidents including sexual assault when students are drunk. However, I think Natalie brings up a good point about online hazing or abuse that we should all be conscientious of. Through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, people are even likely to point out a group of people or an organization to target. I think that group threat can be just as threatening as personal threat and we should all be aware and prevent it from occurring.

// 03/29/2012 at 10:35 am