Anonymity: an alluring cloak of hidden identity. From the simple delight of a prank call to the more sinister evolution of internet trolling, the reverberations of such obscurity across virtual space can be unexpected. Who could have foreseen the outcome of the innocent 2Day FM prank call last year to the hospital that was treating Kate Middleton for morning sickness?
It is true that the internet has become a “microcosm of society” in many beneficial ways, empowering users through a participatory culture that encourages the free flow of ideas and expression. However, as logic follows; “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Welcome to the dark side of the net, and cue internet trolls. Emboldened by the anonymity of cyberspace, ‘trolls’ abuse the benefits of a participatory culture as they freely voice opinions online that are considered inappropriate offline. Seemingly devoid of a moral compass, they relish the opportunity to post messages in online communities that are often threatening, sexist or racist. One internet troll, with online alias Nimrod Severan, justified his bigoted and racist comments on Facebook RIP pages to a BBC reporter by arguing that Facebook is an open forum where one is entitled to his or her own opinion. And this is where the issue arises. Does a crackdown on trolling risk contradicting the democratic ambitions of the net?
Some suggest the best way to deal with online trolling is to not ‘feed the trolls’, while many propose that pre-moderation of comments or a complete shutdown of comments, as carried out by the King’s Tribune online edition, is the only way to stop trolls in their tracks.
However, perhaps an alternate solution comes in removing the cloak of anonymity that many internet trolls hide behind. While hidden identity may allow one to “break taboo subjects and speak against the hive mind”, as one comment on the SMH article The Dark Side of the Net suggests, the abuse of this power by internet trolls should not be tolerated. Democracy works in two ways- freedom of speech, but also freedom of action under LAW. Just as the hashtag #mencallmethings was used to “name and shame” misogynist internet trolls, and The Antibogan exposes those who commit online injustice, perhaps we should be focusing on unmasking the anonymous. While this is not suggesting total transparency of online identities, the threat of exposure may cause trolls to think twice before making a misogynist or racist comment in fear of retribution. Taking away their anonymity may be the solution to locking away the Hyde in every Dr Jekyll for good and in maintaining a HEALTHY online democracy.