Home > feminism, Life, Online > Does Internet Bullying Outweigh Privacy?

Does Internet Bullying Outweigh Privacy?

Anonymously yours; or in my case, pseudonymously yours.

“Rinth” isn’t my real name, but it is my real nickname. “Shadley” is where I go to school, at least until I graduate in May. Don’t bother looking for it on a map: that’s a nickname, too. So “Rinth de Shadley” is my blogging name.

Using a nom de blog lets me write things that I might not write under my real name. I can write about political, moral, and religious issues without worrying that someone will bring them up in a job interview 10 years from now.

I can write frankly about things that have happened to me, such as surviving child sexual abuse, getting hypnotized on YouTube*, or getting much too drunk at a UMass party last year.

And I can write more or less safely, with minimum risk that some crazy Internet stalker will use my name to track me down and hurt me.

It’s not as if nobody knows who Rinth de Shadley is. A few other bloggers know. A couple family members know, though only one of them, thank goodness, reads the blog. Some of my close friends at school know, and one of my professors knows.

But even that many people knowing the secret can be a problem. I’ve kept silent about a couple of issues because my views might have gotten me me in trouble with my friends. So anonymity does have its advantages.

But it also has disadvantages. One of my uncles sent me an article from The New York Times about “Anonymity and the Dark Side of the Internet.”

The basic idea seems to be that some people abuse anonymity to spread false information, vicious rumors, and propaganda. According to Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago, it

allows Internet bloggers “to create for themselves a shame-free zone in which they can inflict shame on others.” The power of the bloggers, she continues, “depends on their ability to insulate their Internet selves from responsibility in the real world, while ensuring real-world consequences” for those they injure.

There’s no denying her point. That kind of vicious behavior does occur. Anonymity also brings out the worst in some Internet users, letting them bully and harass people with little fear of being held accountable.

In a way, it touches on one of the oldest debates in philosophy: Is fear of punishment all that keeps us from doing bad things?

I would say it depends on the person. Some people are kind and good. If they do something anonymously, they express those qualities. Some other people are so mean or mixed up that, when there’s no fear of punishment or exposure, they just can’t hold themselves back. They attack, lie, bully, and spread vicious rumors.

So the real question is, what do you do in a situation like that? If you ban anonymity, you’re preventing a lot of bad, but also a lot of good.

Dr. Nussbaum is the editor of a new book called The Offensive Internet that focuses on the bad aspects. Most of the contributors to her book seem to believe in prohibiting or restricting Internet anonymity.

I realize that you can make a good argument for either side of the debate.

But as a semi-anonymous blogger who tries to write about good and useful topics, I’m in favor of being able to do it with a nom de blog. I would hate to give that up, and I hope that my readers would agree: both the ones who know my real name and the ones who don’t. 🙂

_______________________
* I thought that the story of how I got hypnotized on YouTube had important information about Internet safety. However, I deleted it because it was getting too much pervy attention.


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

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