By Emma Weidmann | Intern
Possibly one of the worst ways the internet has affected our lives is the ability to hide behind a username, using the mask of anonymity as an outlet for cruelty. This is pervasive on basically every single platform you could think of. More commonly, I see it on Twitter and TikTok, as these accounts can be less personal and more focused around being a fan of a certain celebrity, so these “stan” accounts can twist words, fuel fights and attempt to drive each other out of online communities — all while allowing very few personal details to be leaked. They seem to be in complete control of their identities as they expose others.
Of course, it’s smart to keep personal information such as your location and legal name off of some accounts, but a drawback of being incognito in this way is that the things that someone says can’t be connected back to them. Essentially, there are no consequences. People use this impunity to their advantage. There have been times when fan accounts have encouraged self-harm or other dangerous behaviors, leading to serious, real-life consequences. What kind of world do we live in where we feel comfortable pushing someone to the edge of committing suicide, all because it’s through a screen and not to their face?
The number of people who reported having experienced cyberbullying more than doubled from 2007 to 2019, making it clear that this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Emerging from the toxic wasteland of the TikTok comment sections is a new term for the type of ridiculous behavior that is now normalized: “chronically online.” I’m sure we all learned about cyberbullying in elementary school — along with stranger danger and internet etiquette — but it seems that most of us have forgotten it.
I dislike using the word “cyberbullying” because I think it’s reminiscent of the age of Myspace and Facebook and the early years of Instagram. The word first hit the mainstream around 2007. Because of that, it carries this notion of being bullied by people at your middle school, whose names and photos are attached to their page and who want you to know it’s them who hate you and think you’re ugly.
But anonymous accounts lend themselves to a unique sort of bullying and paranoia. With the increased connectivity of the internet in the years since Myspace peaked, platforms like TikTok and Twitter have made it so that the people spreading hate on your accounts most likely don’t know you in real life. Hyper-connectivity makes it so that the whole world really can be out to get you if it feels like it.
I remember sitting in the library as an elementary student, listening to the librarian lecture my class about internet safety. Be wary of strangers on the internet. Don’t give out personal information. All of this is good advice, but those lessons haven’t stuck because the internet has changed so much in that timespan. It may be time to step back and rethink how we use social media. Can we be more responsible? Can we have the decency to realize that just because we can hide behind our screens, doesn’t mean we should?