For those who know me well, you may know I have a slight obsession with the card game hearts. Yet, there is one little problem with this game – you have to have three people to play. That being said, sometimes it can be hard to get three ready players together at any given moment. So to help feed my addiction, I recently downloaded an app where real people can play together over the internet (yes, I am that obsessed).
But I began to notice something as I was playing. On the app, you can write messages to the other players in your specific game. Additionally, users are allowed to create avatars which hide their names and let them use an alternate photo so it does not disclose their true identity. This seems great in theory to hide personal information and such, but I have since seen yet another example of how Anonymity contributes to cyber bullying.
In the game, I have witnessed people calling other players morons, retards, cunts, jackasses, you name it. But why do we feel like this is okay? For simply not choosing a card quick enough? And why do we engage in things like ask.fm or other anonymous sites? Why do we make fake social media accounts or subtweet just to tear others down? Instead of taking jabs at people’s self confidence we should be spreading the love! I must express that it in no way, shape, or form does this form of harassment make anyone more powerful or grant them any more control over another person. These are simply reflections of their innermost insecurities. We all fall victim to Anonymity’s dark abyss, but we have to be conscious of its consequences in order to work on conquering it, for it’s such a problem in our culture.
Additionally, remember that just because the identity of the perpetrator may be hidden, that person is not exempt from the consequences of their actions. The aggressor may live with angst and embarrassment even if they only harbor it subconsciously. But if you are the only person you are truly living with in each moment of your life, why submit to this sort of self-destructive, internal suffering? The words and names may seem harmless when they are transmitted through anonymous barriers, but they possess great power to inflict permanent pain nonetheless. The person at the foot of these insults can’t help but to absorb them. We seem to think in society that if we don’t have an identity, it dehumanizes us to others and makes our comments slide off without doing any harm. But this is simply not the case. Rather, it only makes us feel more justified in saying cruel things because we suffer no external consequence if not caught. I do agree that sometimes Anonymity can be constructive in the sense that it allows individuals to share their opinions freely in matters such as politics, however when it comes to ways in which we communicate our thoughts and feelings about those around us, it is so important to stop and think: Would I still be comfortable saying this if my name and face were attached to it?
Words hurt much deeper than we sometimes allow ourselves to think about in the heat of the moment. Social media and cellphones make us so quick to react without first processing a situation and being introspective about it, because we are always so tuned in. It’s as if a barrier is put between empathy and us, where we don’t see the reflection of the other when we cast bullets over the edge. So I challenge you to tear down that barrier of Anonymity and think about the power of your words. For they may just be inconsequential units of language on a worthless page to you, but to someone else they’re the foundation for an entire self-narrative.