Anonymity and the web

28/08/2013  -  10.56

Jean Brant, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Wellbeing

Anonymity and the web

Cyber bullying is a recent phenomenon, with health impacts. Recent postings on Twitter have contained threats of rape and murder, Facebook messages have been linked to suicides. Both can be anonymous. What is the link between anonymity and bullying?

We live in an increasingly interconnected society; whilst bringing many benefits, it can also expose our vulnerabilities. Those with an external locus of control (most young people) will get their values from those they admire (the confident, the attractive, the active), yet the comparison may lower their self-esteem. 

Negative messaging, rising from resentment, may be an attempt to lessen this threat. Anonymity protects against counter-threat, and allows the person to manage their conflicted feelings, to be both a friend and an enemy.

Much of the focus of the bullying appears to be disproportionately directed against young articulate women. This suggests underlying misogyny. Women who speak out challenge patriarchal views of the submissive female.

In times of recession, more jobs are available to lower socio-economic status women than men; they are more likely to work flexibly and take low-paying service and caring employment. This can lower the self-esteem of men with more traditional masculinities, with anonymous cyber-bulling a safe outlet.

So anonymity on the web can foster cyber-bullying.  

We could try to regulate, or stigmatise the offender.  But is this behaviour not less harmful than direct violence? Can we develop a corresponding form of cyber assertiveness, a non-violent communication format to deal with bullying, to direct the anger and resentment to healthier outlets such as counselling, for example?

This would require support and the ability to empathise with the bully - no small order in today’s society of shame and blame.