Thursday, March 10, 2011

Exponent Article: Anonymous and Online

I thought I would start re-posting my ASMSU Exponent articles online at this blog. Enjoy!
If you want to see human idiocy at its finest, check the comment section of a news story, a blog or a YouTube video. You’ll be greeted by legions of self-righteous posters, also known as trolls, who’ll not only decry the content of the page, but direct personal attacks at the creator, and perhaps some insults against his or her mother for good measure.
Yet the ironic thing is, these same people would be hard-pressed to say the same harsh words to the person’s face. What drives us to make asses of ourselves behind a computer screen?
Lack of empathy is the perpetrator here. When the only information you have to base a person off is a wall of text they wrote and possibly a still picture, it is all too easy to hurl insults at this straw man built in their likeness. There is no real life contact. There is no tone of voice, facial expressions or gestures that develop this online “enemy” from pastiche to person.
Making it easier is the online disinhibition effect, a psychological term for the anarchic behavior people are prone to indulge on the Internet. Behind walls of anonymity and invisibility, one can feel invincible. The worst thing that can happen on a typical website is banishment, but even that punishment can be sidestepped as simply as creating a new account. There is no consequence when you cannot be seen or found, right?
With inhibitions removed, primal pride and territorial attitude are free to run roughshod. You’d never have to own up to whatever you say, so fire away. Disagree with the actions of Congress? Light up the comment section with a lengthy rant demonizing them as the baby-eating devils you know them to be. A blogger criticizes your favorite TV series? Comment on how he is a complete and total failure at life and should contemplate suicide.
The antisocial behavior that anonymity and a screen provide isn’t limited to the Internet, either. The wonderfully enlightening scrawl on bathroom stalls shows the effect is alive and well in the real world. Even when you know the person, a text message seems like such a safe way to tell someone what you really feel about them. The impenetrable wall of a computer screen makes it all too appealing. Which then begs the question: What does it all accomplish? Nothing, nothing at all.
There is no benefit to Internet tomfoolery. The ironic thing is that most of the people who will make fools of themselves online are rather reasonable, normal-seeming people in the real world. Instead of firing off the ignorance cannon, people should instead think about what they want to insult or argue about. Most of these Internet “conflicts” are petty and only make us look like fools for indulging in them. You may feel mighty as you light up the comment section, but it amounts to nothing more than one moronic drop in a sea of idiocy.

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