It is easy to make statements anonymously online, and frequently anonymous comments aren’t very nice. At least one study has shown that toxic disinhibition can be a byproduct of anonymous communication on the Internet. Dissociative anonymity allows people to feel that because they are anonymous, in effect someone else is posting a hateful message, not them. Dissociative imagination provides the illusion that the online interaction is in effect occurring in a world completely different from the “real” world. People frequently say things to each other online that they would never say in person, even when they’re not overwhelmed by toxic disinhibition. Just look at practically any post on Digg or Slashdot (which are dominated by young men) to see what I mean. But this is generally pseudonymous smack-talking. The stakes get higher when anonymous posters make defamatory statements about named individuals. The infamous story of a promising female Yale law grad who felt she did not get callbacks from any of the 16 firms she interviewed with, because of anonymous personal attacks on a law school admission discussion site called AutoAdmit. Ron Coleman describes these anonymous hit-and-run incidents as a form of “asymmetric personal warfare” in which the slanderer has all the advantages, and can leave a trail of wreckage behind. I wonder, though. Do the anonymous defamers really hold all the cards online? Sure, like guerrilla fighters, they can blend into the background at will, popping up again later to stir up trouble. But even the most cursory glance at AutoAdmit discussions reveals an abundance of name-calling, random stupidity (“LOL YALE IS TEH GAY!!!”), and insecurity. In examining online defamation, wouldn’t it be useful to inquire as to the reasonableness of giving any credibility to the statements being made? Assuming the sixteen law firms that didn’t give the Yale grad callbacks actually believed these anonymous statements, I refer them to the words my father told me when I was just a wee lad: “Don’t believe everything you read.” To that I’d add, “especially online.” Today young people are living in a radically different online environment than the one that existed even five years ago. Many have adopted, subconsciously or otherwise, the position that the best way to fight inaccurate online statements about one’s self is to live one’s life openly online. As the excellent articleSay Anything by Emily Nussbaum illuminates, an entire generation is growing up exposing everything they do online. Perhaps the best way to foil online defamation is being able to say, “What are you going to believe? My blog, or what some random dweeb on AutoAdmit said about me?”

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