Column: The anonymity of internet trolls

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Discussions and arguments understandably lead into very heated moments. But on the internet, these arguments devolve into a barrage of unintelligent insults. The internet, while beneficial, can also bring out the worst in people due to its anonymity.

The internet opened a vast world of information and communication. It allows for a diverse group of people to communicate with each other and allow different perspectives to mix and develop totally new ideas. But when disagreements occur the cultivation of ideas ends, because the people of the internet resort to derogatory comments to defend their point instead of facts.

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One can attribute the savage behavior often seen on the internet to people feeling secure by hiding behind a screen.

Let’s look at YouTube, a video streaming site, for example: Users of the site are identified by screen names, names that are completely different from their own. For example, John Luke could be Wildcat253 on the site. No one on the site would know the identity of Wildcat253 unless he chooses to reveal himself.

This barrier of anonymity creates a sense of security for users. You can say whatever you want so long as you are behind that anonymous barrier. No one will be able to track you down and you can let your thoughts loose. It’s the perfect scenario.

This barrier works both ways. As people respond to each other on the web—seeing only the screen names of others—it lets them strip the human aspect of the other user. Sometimes, people treat others as a bot that will talk back. We never really consider the person sitting behind that computer screen.

It’s important to understand that there are actual human beings across the screen. We have to go on the internet and treat them as we would talk with other people in person. We must acknowledge the opposing party’s argument and consider all the facts said. Since we’re all entitled to our opinions, it’s OK to disagree. But we can do so gracefully. There’s no need to destroy and dehumanize the other party.

This problem can also be attributed to the lack of information that we receive regarding the person across the computer screen. We are only exposed to what they said about something that we disagree with. As such, we can’t sympathize at all with them.

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We don’t know that person’s background, how that person looks—all we see is a screen with a string of words. The human aspect is missing.

Sometimes the best people fall victim to the sense of security that the anonymity of the web brings, which turns seemingly reasonable people into aggressive monsters. I play a competitive video game called League of Legends in which two teams play against each other in a strategy-based brawl. I have some soft-spoken friends who play this video game—people who would never say horrible things to others. But when a teammate doesn’t play well, things get a little messy—even with those who would normally fall into the soft spoken category.

In that moment, people throw insults at each other. With each other’s humanity behind the safety of the internet, spewing toxicity comes off as easy.

People need to fight the temptation to abuse the anonymous nature of the internet. There are humans behind the screen, and we shouldn’t use that barrier as a way to say toxic things to others from the safety of your computer. It’s necessary to treat our interactions on the web as we would interact with others in the physical world. Let’s treat each other with respect and just play nice on the internet.


Follow Andrew Alamban on Twitter.



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