The internet, a mask behind a white screen

Photo by Tiara Winata

The Internet is arguably the greatest invention of the 20th century. It has revolutionized nearly every facet of modern society, from social interactions on Facebook to artistic expressions on YouTube to information delivery with news station websites.

Perhaps the greatest unintended side effect of the Internet is anonymity.

It has, in a pessimistic sense, led to demonstrating the worst side of humanity. Cyber bullying has become a prominent issue facing children and teenagers now that a fake online identity on pretty much any social network is a few clicks away.

Vitriol is available in any comments section. Punishment, when enforced by site admins, often consists of account bans. This is circumvented by the arduous process of creating a different account before resuming the stream of personal attacks.

Anonymity is also the reason behind the degradation of online gaming interaction. Any FPS player can attest to the annoying assault of expletives, racism, sexism and generally any offensive combination of words in the English language. Sometimes these players are punished. Not, it would seem, as often as should be enforced.

Considering video games provide a dominant iconography and one of the first social experiences of the upcoming, and our own, generation, these negative environments set potentially harmful examples.

There are also benefits to the anonymity provided by the faceless. Wikipedia, for example, is entirely supported by the efforts of the nameless. While this does allow misinformation to slip through, the fact that anybody can edit the content, tempered somewhat by fact-checking editors, means even minutiae has its own page of information. The absence of a singular author holds every Wikipedia “fact” to scrutiny, meaning anyone can question or elaborate upon a subject without being intimidated by the name of an expert. It has, in a sense, fostered a desire for knowledge.

Anonymity took a literal manifestation in the hacker collective known simply as Anonymous. This group has, to date, infiltrated such organizations as the Westboro Baptist Church, the U.S. copyright office, the Church of Scientology and PayPal.

Anonymous and the concept of anonymity have in part even fueled an economic and social demonstration in the 99 percent movement. The hacker group has claimed to represent the majority will. In a similar vein, the 99 percent movement was a revolt against a perceived minority power for the good of the majority.

Anonymity has seeped so seamlessly into online interactions it’s easy to forget how prevalent it is in everyday use. The metaphorical grapevine has circled the globe. Rumors, misinformation and conspiracy theories all spread with the press of a few buttons. We live in an age of ceaseless information pouring from the fingertips of faceless men and women.