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Internet Anonymity: The Importance of Online Accountability

In other words, no, you probably shouldn’t tweet that.

Internet Accountability

In other words, no, you probably shouldn’t tweet that.

By Terry Mooney, Ohio State University

From its birth as a seemingly endless database of information, through its progression into an even bigger database of memes and irony-saturated trolling, the internet has consistently provided users with a sense of protected anonymity.

This anonymity comes with a certain responsibility though, which is to use our posting powers “for good,” like commenting positive feedback on a YouTube singer’s cover, or debating potential chemistry issues within the New Orleans Pelicans on a sports forum. Not “for bad,” like rewriting the Wikipedia page on “O.J.’s Murder Trial” to cover the ethics of mass murdering oranges for juice, or informing a thirteen-year-old on “Yahoo Answers” that yes, his penis will fall off due to inactivity.

Yet, as anyone who has been catfished or even visited Craigslist certainly understands, trusting people online will usually result in a date with a forty-year-old man who promised to be a twenty-year-old woman. Hell, sometimes it can be hard enough to trust the people closest to you, but at least in this case, you can confront them.

Imagine how much some stubble-studded, boxer-clad, middle-aged virgin living in his parents’ basement in Brattleboro, Vermont, actually feels about your feelings when he sets his Monster energy drink down just long enough to call you a “fucking noob” online. Likely not much.

Internet Anonymity: The Importance of Online Accountability
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The fact of the matter is, people often embrace the internet because it offers the shrouding darkness of a shadow, where they can lurk and freely express their hateful viewpoints and twisted behavior. Hiding behind a username and computer, perpetrators are free from the restraining binds of consequence that they would normally experience in real life. The internet provides an escape from this life, and in turn, an escape from personal responsibility.

Internet forums like Reddit and 4Chan have helped popularize and perpetuate the art of internet trolling. 4Chan, especially, has frequently found itself acting as the deviant culprit behind mass internet trolling, causing many to look upon them in disdain.

These anonymous, internet-savvy pranksters have made the news for various troublemaking offenses. There was the time they tricked “Beliebers” into shaving their heads in support of Justin Bieber and his phony cancer diagnosis, or the time they spammed the MTV European Music Awards and made Rick Astley win Best Act Ever, thus pulling off the largest ever “rickroll” to date.

Despite these trolls’ tendency to have fun at the expense of, well, whoever they want, that’s exactly what they are doing in most cases. Having fun. These pranks, although admittedly childish and certainly a nuisance, are harmless in nature. 4Chan has actually worked diligently to protect the sanctity of their internet “home” from those who believe they can use its anonymity to cause harm. These cyber vigilantes are hunters in their own sense, using vast knowledge of cyber footprints to track and trace IP addresses of offenders, and using the information to bring them to justice.

In 2009, it took less than 15 minutes to track down a potential child predator, who was attempting to seduce his niece’s underage friend online. By identifying the mascot on the t-shirt of one of the pictures of the girl the man posted, 4Chan users were able to narrow down which school it was and contact administration to inform them of the potential foul play.

Users’ reign of online justice extends beyond the realm of human existence and into the animal world. That same year, in February, 4Chan struck again, this time tracing back a video’s original posting location in order to expose a fourteen-year-old, who had been abusing his cats in a series of disturbing videos posted to YouTube.

4Chan has even reached its neck out to help preserve the sacredness of something that is dear to my heart, a fast-food burger. In 2012, an Ohio Burger King employee posted a photo of a fellow employee standing in two tubs of lettuce, with the caption, “This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King.”

The fast food junkies on 4Chan worked quicker than a Burger King drive-thru, and within minutes of the original posting, they pinpointed the restaurant’s location to Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Although their tactics may not always be “by the books,” or in some senses even legal, they refuse to stand by and let your children, cats and burgers be compromised by the reprehensible actions of a few anonymous “bad eggs.”

Ironically, the term “bad egg” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re talking about Twitter.

Users who choose not to add a picture as their AVI are instead assigned a picture of an animated white egg against a colored background.

Similar to the cowardice of anonymous posters on sites like 4Chan and Reddit, these Twitter users believe they can simply hide behind their handle and use it as a platform to spew vitriol and spitefulness, which they wouldn’t have the guts to express in real life.

Twitter users took a page out of 4Chan’s book when they held Michigan woman Lisa Greenwood accountable for her racist tweet regarding Michelle Obama. They hunted her down on Facebook and found out where she worked, immediately contacting the business and having her fired.

In a technological age, where the internet is constantly expanding and time spent online drastically increasing, it’s easy to hide behind a username or online profile and use it maliciously to spread hate. However, the sanctity of personal responsibility must always be upheld, and the internet is certainly not an exception. Follow the rules and use your liberties online with productive, positive intent. Otherwise, face the wrath of the internet vigilantes.

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