Hiding Behind the Computer Screen: The Scary Effects of Anonymity

When I was a freshman, I stumbled upon a once-popular website known as College ACB. It was, occasionally, wildly entertaining and helped me procrastinate in Strozier when I needed a few (or ten) study breaks.

Over the course of a few months, I continued to visit the website because some of the posts were funny, others outrageously ridiculous, but it soon took a turn for the worst. As time went on, posts would get nastier and much, much more personal – I couldn’t bear to keep looking at them. If I did, I felt I was just as guilty as the anonymous people behind the computer screen.

“[Insert name here] has gonorrhea. Stay away from that dirty bitch!”

“Which sorority has the biggest sl*ts? Post names here!!!”

“I heard [insert name here] has THE tiniest penis… anyone experienced it themselves?”

I had seen posts name-dropping women who had abortions, even women’s nude pictures that they once sent to someone they trusted—plastered on a website where it would stay, inevitably, forever.

After College ACB had its run, a website known as College Leak slithered its way into the FSU scene with the same idea: the ability to post without anyone knowing who you are, resulting in a slew of dirty gossip. Thankfully, these two websites are not up and running currently.

However, we do, in fact, have other sites running. As far as phone apps go, we have YikYak and Whisper, two of the most well-known “secret-sharing” applications where people can log in anonymously and talk about whatever they please. Granted, these apps are a little more innocent than the websites mentioned above because users cannot share pictures (and YikYak has its good moments at times), but there’s still an enormous opportunity for negativity to occur at any victim’s expense.

So here’s the serious question: Why are these websites so damn popular? Are we in college or are we just too stuck in a perpetual cycle of petty, disgusting high school drama? We can all sit back and laugh at the fact that it’s all a bunch of gossip on a stupid website (which it is), but many of us fail to see the actual, real-life repercussions that it’s having on the person or people being targeted.

Having the blanket protection of being anonymous on the Internet is something too many people have taken advantage of. From YouTube hate comments, to people on Reddit “doxxing” (releasing all personal information such as address, phone number, workplace, etc.) anyone that pisses them off, to straight up sexually harassing women (see: the GamerGate controversy), it’s a serious, scary problem that doesn’t exactly seem to be going away as long as the Internet exists.

Source: New Statesman

Condemning someone for being a "sl*t," posting their private pictures, or terrorizing them through the Internet says nothing about them as a person but says absolutely everything about you. Although you may think you’re doing the world some kind of justice for “exposing” someone for participating in a normal thing like sex, posting a hate remark anonymously about someone says more about you than anyone else.

Tyler Clementi was a student at Rutgers University when videos of his sexual encounters (that were meant to be private) were leaked onto the Internet without his permission. College ACB was found to have links to the hate comments and cyberbullying that eventually led Tyler to end his own life.

Source: LGBTQ Nation

It’s situations like this when it’s necessary to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a change. Imagine personal, secret information leaked about you on the Internet for the world to see. Combined with the defamation of character, there’s also a hefty amount of anxiety involved when you realize it could have been anyone that leaked the information about you.

On top of that, a recent article from The Huffington Post proclaims that depression in college freshmen is at an all-time high from an increased use in – yep, you guessed it – social media.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students.

There are reports of more than 1,000 suicides on university campuses every single year. And it would be devastating to see that number rise because of people who shouldn’t even be allowed to touch a computer. What can we do to fix the problem? We can start by changing things right here in Tallahassee. Don’t let people get away with slander. Call them out, report them, notify the application’s administration if you have to. It’s so important to stand up for one another, especially if it means potentially saving a life.

You can also refer to lifelines like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or websites like Stop Bullying if you or someone you know needs help with depression or bullying.