There are countless websites and apps that will let people say whatever they want without revealing themselves. They do this through the use of usernames (which can be almost anything) or by allowing the option for people to remain anonymous. It is a popular feature that many companies and/or websites use to encourage conversation and use of their product. After all, there are no real consequences of typing out a message; people are more open to talking and saying things they wouldn’t normally say if they know they can walk away without anyone ever realizing it’s them. But, that is part of the problem, isn’t it?
Conceptually, being anonymous online is a good idea; it makes for a much more relaxed and stress free environment. People can discuss things that might be unpopular, and having that feeling of freedom can make things easier. But when this idea is put into practice, and real life people get involved, it gets much messier and the worst in people tends to come out. Without the fear of punishment, what’s to stop a person from saying terrible things to anyone and everyone?
Let’s face it, the reality of the situation is that online, people can say things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic, which are just a few examples in a long list. It’s because people with those kinds of views have a mask and a wall to hide behind. They can go about their lives without anyone knowing that they have been spouting hate. If someone started shouting racist slurs in public, then there is a legitimate fear of retaliation, be it physical or legal. Many of these kinds of people are aware that what they are saying is offensive and derogatory. They say it with the intent to hurt and infuriate but they also know that doing so could get them into trouble. Which is why becoming an anonymous figure online is their tool of choice.
Anonymous online posting can be a good thing, but it is a dangerous two edged sword. It often seems to be hurting just as much as it is helping. At the end of the day, it poses an interesting question: how much online freedom is too much? On one hand, it’s rarely a good idea to give up freedom for the sake of security/policing, as that leads to tyranny. But give people too much freedom, and that leads to anarchy. Not to mention, you have to make sure all of these rules are enforced equally. It wouldn’t be right or fair to consistently accuse one group of doing the wrong thing while ignoring another group that is actually committing the action.
Question: “There’s a girl that I like that just got out of a long relationship and doesn’t want to see anyone at the moment. What should I do in order to win her heart or at least make her give me a chance?”
Answer: It depends on why she’s telling you that, whether you’ve asked her out or not and whether or not it looks like she’s trying to friend zone you.
Radford isn’t the first university to incorporate a “crushes” page onto their online community. Much like the meme page and confessions page, universities seem to have their own special brand of Facebook fads that sweep through and keep people entertained for a few weeks before they lose interest and move on to the next fad. However, RU Crushes seems to have hit RU particularly hard, pulling in well over 2,200 fans in its first week. Continue reading The dangers of anonymity in a small community→
This year the Whim family is welcoming a new edition to the crew! We are pleased to inform Radford University students that there is a place you can turn to with all of your unanswered questions. Whether they are embarrassing, scary or just something funny, there is someone out there that has the answers to it all. Continue reading Introducing: Highlanders Anonymous→
Self-styled hacker/activist group Anonymous allegedly announced a plan on Oct. 5 to attempt a cyber attack on the New York Stock Exchange. The threat of the attack was meant as a means of Anonymous throwing their support behind the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The moment the video hit YouTube it was met with resistance from the Anonymous community. Many in the community of hackers found the current attack plan a little bold and unreasonable, even for Anonymous. The video claimed Anonymous would initiate a denial of service attack on the NYSE website. This distributed denial of service attack was scheduled to take place Oct. 10. A video published in the group’s YouTube feed on Oct. 8 decried the attack and the previous video as accidentally promoting a false attack. Then a last-minute video on Oct. 9 in the same YouTube feed announced some factions within Anonymous would go ahead with the attack.
NYSE and the FBI have taken the threat seriously after a number of similar attacks against corporations that refused to allow for the transfer of funds to WikiLeaks from supporters. These attacks proved the organization Anonymous could pose a real threat in a cyber sense. Those attacks took place late last year, and a number of arrests took place proving that Anonymous is not invisible to the public.
Among members of Anonymous, many subgroups have claimed the recent operation was not planned by Anonymous. These subgroups believe the video was a plot by another group to undermine the protests on Wall Street. This highlights an issue with the structure of Anonymous as a hacktivist group. While the organization is made of many members the group has no leader, this lack of leadership results in fracturing and splintering within the largely autonomous organization. If a few members are arrested it does the organization no harm, but on the same token there is little direction within the organization. The success of an attack requires the agreement of the various factions.
While illegal, hacktivism may be an affective means to get a point across. In this case it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that any such attack would merely act to destabilize the Wall Street protests, which began recently to find their voice. If the plotted attack on the NYSE is in fact a legitimate plot of cyber terrorism intended to help the Wall Street protesters, it has the chance to do more harm than good.
Anonymous may have neutered itself by drawing so much attention to their actions. They have actively worked toward making themselves less anonymous while pursuing their ideological goals. Every future threat, real or not, will draw more attention and scrutiny from legal authorities who have everything to gain from detaining and ending the threat of Anonymous as a cyber terrorism group.
Update: Oct. 10 passed with little more than a feeble attack by Anonymous, the splinter group that followed through with the attack only bringing down NYSE’s website for a couple of minutes, and the stock exchange was not affected by the attack.