Enabling Bullies?

blindspot

Regarding abuse via social media, is it the tool or the intent that poses the larger problem?

 

The question is being asked because of new social media apps that offer users anonymity. One such app new to the market is “blindspot.” Its sales pitch is: Don’t you ever wish you could say what’s on your mind without everyone knowing it was you? Now you can … send one-on-one messages to your friends, your crush, or anyone on your contact list without them knowing it’s you. The playful app lets you flirt, play pranks, or tell secrets without revealing your identity until you’re ready.

 

Being able to send messages secretly is not new. Snapchat allows you to send photos, videos and text that vanish without a trail. AOL instant messenger senders were identified by a username, only. An app called Secret quietly launched in 2013 enjoyed much popularity but its CEO closed it down in 2015 in the wake of accusations it was being used to spread nasty rumors and lies; its usage was not what he had initially envisioned. Yik Yak and Whisper are two more anonymous apps.

 

As one might guess, the main objection to these anonymous apps is that they make it easier for cowards to throw mud behind the cloak of anonymity, and serve to intensify high-tech bullying that in some cases has driven kids and teens to commit suicide.

 

Interestingly, the founder of Whisper says that his app in fact combats cyberbullying by giving their network’s community an outlet for expression. Marginalized groups such as LGBT, battered women, or kids in danger can comfortably and safely have a voice. It has been called the anti-Facebook of oversharing and self-aggrandizement. Also, Whisper has been cited as a useful platform for real time reporting from people in places where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are blocked – such as in Iraq in June 2014.  Other defenders of anonymous apps would cite their use for sending tips about criminal activity to law enforcement.

 

But being anonymous in this context also means unaccountable. The temptation for gross misuse without repercussion or consequences is just so high. There’s a reason we humans sometimes bite our tongues or swear under our breath, after all. Some thoughts, feelings and even facts we would do better not to express. It’s not a question of free speech. Our right to self-expression implies a public forum where listeners can choose not to listen or they can rebut what has been said and if slanderous or libel, take the speaker/writer to court.

 

Blindspot founder Dror Rafaeli defends his app by saying it’s not the app but the intent that counts. He points out that any app can be used for good or for bad, and that motivated bullies can easily find ways to communicate anonymously via any app.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous on January 26, 2016 at 8:38 am

    An excellent piece that deserves much more discussion and consideration. The whole issue of anonymity in today’s society deserves debate. I don’t mean the careless and heartless posts on the internet by trolls looking to disparage and libel the character of others. But what about in elections? The secret ballot (commonly referred to as the Australian Ballot) wasn’t widely used in the USA until after 1884. Before then, everyone knew who you voted for. If we are going to make it difficult or impossible for people to post comments on the internet anonymously, should we also make public the choices we make for elected officials and ballot measures? What about requiring the public pronouncement of who we support politically? Should we have a right to anonymity in our political beliefs or should those be laid open to public view? What right does the state, or, for that matter, anyone have to know who or what causes I support politically? Yet, the causes I support and the candidates I support are required by law to report my pecuniary and in-kind contributions. I assure you a listing of political contributors to opposition candidates would be a treasure to politicians in certain totalitarian regimes—a sort of ready-made political enemies list that they could obtain from the state to use for future retribution. I have a business acquaintance that deals regularly with government contracts. He once told a candidate, in front me, that he supported their position and would gladly vote them but could not legally give them a contribution because if the candidate’s opponent, an incumbent US Senator, found out , it would gravely jeopardize a business proposition he had before a federal agency. In some instances, perhaps we should enjoy more anonymity instead of less.

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