The online anonymous user has in recent times been viewed with suspicion, neglect and even fear. Their animated avatars providing a false sense of bravado that also serves to minimise conscience and decency. As parents, should we be protecting our kids from anonymous online users, or is this all part of the online world that may even have some cathartic beneficial value?
There are many social networking sites that have cropped up recently that base their interactions on the very premise of anonymity. Sites like Whisper, Yik Yak and Confide are just some of the apps encouraging honesty as their best policy. The theory being, that to be really honest, one must be anonymous.
We have heard, read and experienced the dangers with sites such as Qooh.Me and Ask.Fm whereby kids are asked questions online and they open themselves up for anyone and everyone to be brutally honest in their responses. Whilst these sites focus on the honesty of answering questions, we have seen the brutality and hatred with which many of the questions are answered, either anonymously or not.
The creators of these new sites however, believe that the anonymity allows for people to be themselves without the stress of keeping their digital persona intact. We know kids sometimes find it hard keeping up this online identity. The exhaustion of always being socially switched on, of having to keep up online appearances and keep the FOMO at bay, can result in social networking exhaustion.
Must we be anonymous however to remove this stress?
How we respond to someone must no doubt be very different when there is no name or picture attached. This was how it was in the early days of the internet. Way back then, anonymity in chat rooms and on websites was far more common. In recent times however, we seem to have done a total backflip. Profiles, selfies and personal branding has resulted in a transparency never before seen. Certainly this has its drawbacks as we have had to shift our focus to our digital footprint, which is being continuously created and updated.
I guess the question is, why do people feel the need to turn to these sites for advice or even a listening ear from someone they do not even know? Some can be from friendship groups (though you generally don’t know which friend) whilst other sites focus on real anonymous strangers. Some say that it allows people to reveal struggles, help make decisions, request advice and enjoy the therapeutic benefit of getting things off your chest.
The downside however, is the risk of cyberbullying, racism, hate speech and every other ‘ism’ going around. If there is no repercussion for people, then it is a lot easier to say whatever you like, be it truth, shock value or plain nastiness.
There is something about these sites that doesn’t sit well with me. I think it is important that we talk to our kids about what they would be hoping to get out of these interactions. What are they not getting elsewhere?
I understand kids desire for other social networking apps. I get that kids want to be connected and that this is now largely their playground for social interaction.They should know that there are certain people who provide positive connections and their interaction can be mutually beneficial. Unfortunately however, we also know that many people have no qualms being horrible and nasty even when their identity is revealed. One can only imagine the extent of brutality that may result on sites where all interactions are supposedly in secret. I am pretty sure that isn’t a playground we want our kids to be visiting.