The Problem with Anonymity on the Internet

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The Problem with anonymity on the internet

In the early days, the Internet used to be an anonymous space. People didn’t showcase their identities online; instead, used pseudonyms to represent themselves on specific websites. This was fine at that time because not many people used the internet. The effect was the internet was like the wild west: new, unknown and unregulated. The little policing of people’s behaviour online at that time led to many of the issues we’re now dealing with today. 

Since then, there has been a worrying rise in the amount of online abuse, much of which happens on social media, but not exclusively so. In many cases, the perceived anonymity of offenders adds a further frightening experience for victims, with this abuse often leaving a lasting impact on individual mental health.  

A debate has been raging on social media about whether platforms should ban anonymous accounts. While some argue it could lessen online abuse, others say there are many legitimate reasons why people may wish to stay incognito. 

The truth is that anyone can create a social presence online. The page can be fully customized from the name on the account to other identifying information. Over the years this has led to many fake accounts being created across many social platforms.  

Young adults have been creating fake Instagram accounts for years. They create these accounts with fake names so they can post what’s really going on in their lives, safe from parental and future employers’ eyes. This is a relatively harmless way to take advantage of the lax identity rules on social networks. 

Fake accounts have also been used by spammers across social platforms. They have significantly expanded their use over the years. Spammers use social channels in a variety of ways, including posting junk ads, attempting to inject malware into your browser to hijack your computer or to commit fraud by fooling users into believing they’re buying a product or service from a legitimate business. While there are methods to report these accounts and get them banned from social platforms, there are no checks in place to prevent them from creating new accounts and continuing spamming legitimate users. 

Some users take their anonymous identity and use it to harass others online. This phenomenon is known as trolling. Trolls threaten and demean people all over the internet, and for a variety of different reasons. They feel comfortable spreading their messages of harassment online because there is no real public accountability for their actions. Trolls are bullies and attempt to disrupt people’s lives by sending them threatening and hurtful messages online. Sometimes this is more generic, where they target lots of different people regarding certain subjects they’re interested in, or other times it’s more targeted. Regardless of the situation, social platforms are not able to handle trolls well since they can simply create new accounts when their old one is banned. 

Anonymous accounts can also be used to manipulate public thinking. This is most notable in the scandal surrounding the US presidential election of 2016. It has been speculated that Russia spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads that influenced the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. 13 Russians and three Russian companies were indicted on charges of trying to boost Donald Trump and discredit Hillary Clinton on social media. This is a national security threat. 

Something needs to be done to prevent this type of meddling from occurring in any national, political or personal landscape. Luckily for us, the politicians are starting to voice out their opinions on curbing the anonymity online. 

Trolls on ‘dragging sites’ can ruin lives. You would think that in a time of crisis such as this (COVID), it would bring society closer together. Yet, we would say that this year has been the most divisive ever. we believe the internet is fuelling this worrying change in attitude. Many experts also believe that social media is directly responsible for the rise in anger and rudeness in our society. 

Being locked down has bred an army of anonymous armchair warriors who are prepared to make their feelings known regardless of the hurt they may cause. 

There are 3.7 billion internet users in the world. That is nearly half the population of the planet. That is an awful lot of hate. People feel they have the right to say whatever they want, even if it is libellous. A staggering 65 per cent of internet users have reported harassment or abuse and in America, there were 2.5 million people who were stalked online. The hate spreaders do not seem to understand that there are severe consequences to the words they type on their keyboards. The attitude of people using the internet is spilling over into day-to-day life. There has to be accountability.  People cannot be allowed to hide behind the veil of anonymity and should be made responsible for every word they type. 

In a fractured world, there is an even greater need to bring peace and understanding between people.  

As a business, we at RiskEye spend all day every day isolating these risks generated by a lot of these anonymous bullies.  Most of these are individuals hiding behind a wall of anonymity and shouting their cause and trolls and are usually tiny minorities, who have learned how to amplify the online harm. 

These trolls get so far because the digital world doesn’t care about what you have to say.  It only cares about clicks.  Expecting algorithms to be able to judge content is completely and utterly impossible.  No matter what any of the platforms have implemented it has all failed.   

 How do we protect our businesses and our own personal brands online?  Don’t engage with it.  No matter how right you are – how justified you think the response is – no matter how brilliant and witty you are – don’t do it. If you or your business find the material you are not happy about online then let us know.  There are ways to deal with the issue that does not involve you stepping onto the stage with them.    

RiskEye Online Reputation Security works with leading brands and businesses across the world to monitor and read all their data in real-time.  With millions of posts read, mapped, and studied, RiskEye has the technical ability to remove harmful data where appropriate and advise clients on the safest methods for dealing with online risk in real-time. 

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