Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum: Here Come the Trolls

The ability to operate online “anonymously” facilitates a very small range of behaviors in users. An interesting way to look at the different approaches to anonymity online is through an examination of Tumblr and the random page “/b/”, on 4chan.org.

I, like many other users I know, use Tumblr as an outlet for self-expression. Whether that be through re-blogging photos, gifs, or posting poems, or quotes, honestly I just use the site to keep myself away from the negative aspects of Facebook. The ability to post comments or questions anonymously usually goes in one of two ways: to promote positivity or to attack others. In terms of promoting positivity, some Tumblr users use anonymity to tell others how their blog makes them feel happy or they post well wishes that they hope will encourage friendship. On the other hand, some users like to attack others, saying that what they post is annoying, or a personal photo is ugly. Reactions often include a response along the lines of “be brave and come off anon”, which most rarely do. What is interesting in Tumblr’s case is the ability to choose whether or not to reveal yourself; with a click of a button someone has your name and access to your page. Here the element of choice really reflects how people wish to be intentionally malicious or perhaps just to leave a kind note in an act of selflessness. These choices ultimately reflect the personalities of the users and speak to whether some people are inherently mean.

In terms of 4chan.org, the site revels in destroying the egos of not only other anonymous posters but celebrities and other figures out in the “real world”. This site, much like the Dementors in Harry Potter, feeds off of the misery of its users and others. So what does the ability to be anonymous online do for us as users? What is the major draw to losing ourselves behind a screen. It would seem that the ability to hide behind this mask gives some users the agency to attack and bully others without repercussions. So what does that have to say about society and its members? Why is it pleasurable to tear strangers down when what everyone really wants is acceptance and a safe place online to be themselves? Whatever the answer to these questions might be, it would seem that either the concept of anonymous interaction must go or we need to find a way to make “real life” easier to manage without making others suffer.

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