Tag Archives: anonymity

Real stats about online harassment

We all know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about anything, so the first thing I do when I stumble across any research is to check its provenance [as much as possible]. In this case, the stats relating to online harassment come from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They claim that they take “…no positions on policy issues related to the internet”. I’m not sure I’d accept that statement at face value from any organisation, but in this instance, I can’t see the point of any bias.

In terms of accuracy, I’d be more inclined to question the survey technique itself as it relies on ‘self assessment’ rather than some kind of objective observation. Nonetheless, with a large enough sample size, statistical trends about what we think we feel/know/experience tend to be more accurate.

Gah, enough caveats; on to the data itself. You can find the full report on the Pew Research Centre website :


For me, the points that made little bells go off in my head were these :

“Fully 92% of internet users agreed that the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences. But a substantial majority, 68%, also agreed that online environments allow them to be more supportive of one another. Some 63% thought online environments allow for more anonymity than in their offline lives.”

The researchers do not connect the dots, but I find it hard not to do so. Anonymity is the digital equivalent of wearing a mask, or a balaclava; it allows us to indulge the parts of ourselves we usually hide.

In the real world, we have to be diplomatic in order to get on with others in our families, friendship groups, work groups etc. Online, however, anonymity allows us to vent the thoughts and feelings we usually censor. Why? Because we can get away with it.

By the same token, people who do not hide behind anonymous identities online may feel the need to be ‘nicer’ than they might be in real life. Why? Because their online reputation filters back to real life, and no one wants to be seen as ‘nasty’ or ‘selfish’.

[Does that mean I’m nastier in real life than online? Gawd, I hope not, but I probably wouldn’t admit to it even if it were true…]

Whether your views on human nature are as cynical as mine, one thing does stand out from the data – there is an awful lot of nastiness going on. Have a look at this graph:

anonymity stats 2


Now I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but the scale of the problems caused by anonymity really is huge. And we have to do something about it.

Given how inventive we humans can be, I hope that we can bring civilisation to the internet whilst still protecting those who genuinely do need to remain anonymous, but long term, our behaviour must have consequences or we’ll destroy the very thing that makes the internet so wonderful.

My thanks to the Passive Guy for spreading the word about this research.








Taming the Wild Wild West, and the end of anonymity

thumbs up picI’ve ranted written about the dark side of anonymity before [here and here for those interested] but today I’m going to be all sweetness and light because the biggest social media machine of them all – Facebook – is finally doing something about the problem!

If you live on Facebook then you already know about the crack down on anonymous identities. Accounts have been suspended and some special interest groups have been hurt. I say that without any sarcasm – victims of domestic violence are just some of the innocents hurt by this policy. The sad reality is that some people have a very good reason for needing to remain anonymous.

Nonetheless, I believe that doing away with anonymity will make the WWW a better place to live for everyone, in the long run. Bullies will have to face the consequences of their actions in the real world… and so will scammers of all sorts.

As for the rest of us, a little common sense goes a long way. As an author, my name is my brand so I have to splash it around. However I work hard not to post anything that would identify my physical location – i.e. pictures of my house, my street etc. My real world friends and neighbours already know where I live, no one else needs to know.

The same caution extends to my family. I’ve posted a picture of myself but I will never post a picture of anyone else in my family. Nor will I use their real names.

There used to be a saying – ‘the walls have ears’ – meaning that the most innocent looking structures could contain listening devices monitored by spies [shades of the Cold War perhaps?]. Anyway, I believe we have to start treating the WWW with a similar degree of caution; it may just be digital but it is a world, and it can bite.

Hmm… this seems to have turned into a mini rant after all. 😦

Have a great weekend people!



The case against digital anonymity

Indies Unlimited has just posted my article – Anonymity – the dark side of social media. In it I explore the darker aspects of the social media explosion, and the blurring of the boundaries between the digital world and the real one.

If you’re interested, you can read the full article here :


As always, I’d love to get your feedback. 🙂




Anonymity and the First Amendment

Warning! I am furious, and this post is a rant.

In Australia, we are not guaranteed the right of free speech in our constitution. Nonetheless we all believe people do have a right to speak their minds. Unless what they say is slanderous. I’m no expert on US law but I believe the same caveat applies over there.

The reason I am furious is that an anonymous person on Amazon has called me a liar in the comments to her review of Christie Meierz new novel ‘Daughters of Suralia’.

Why does this person call me a liar? Because in my review of Christie’s book I wrote “I am first and foremost a sci-fi reader…” Apparently a check of my reviews [on Amazon] revealed that I review all sorts of genres, not exclusively sci-fi. Ergo, as my reviews are not about sci-fi, my reading cannot be in the sci-fi genre either!

Is this petty, as well as being wrong? Of course it is. The problem lies in the fact that I have :

– published with Amazon… under my real name.

– posted reviews on Amazon… under my real name.

– commented on Amazon… under my real name. 

So to be called a liar slanders me as both an individual and as a writer.

I asked for an apology and received a rant about the First Amendment. It was all about her rights, not mine. Just in case there is any confusion, the ‘her’ in this case is not Christie Meierz, it is an anonymous reviewer by the name of ‘Lisa’.

I would shrug this whole sorry mess off as a storm in a teacup except for :

a) The damage something like this could do to my reputation as a writer of science fiction, and

b} My anger that some people can use the shield of anonymity to abuse others online.

This question of anonymity is not new. It’s a sore that has been festering for some time, and the examples of abuse are mounting. My little tale of woe is trivial, but it does highlight that something has to change.

In my view, online citizens should  have the same rights as real world citizens – say what you want but be prepared to wear the consequences.

At the moment, anonymity guarantees that there can be no consequences for online abuse. I can check for ‘Lisa’, but all I get is a page about her other reviews. She can hide. I can’t.

And that’s why I took the one option open to me. I reported ‘Lisa’ to Amazon for abuse.

Whether Amazon does anything about my complaint or not, I had to make a stand. To be honest, if ‘Lisa’ were not anonymous I would already be on the phone to my solicitor to find out whether I can sue a US citizen. That is how strongly I feel about being called a liar.

I apologize for vomiting this anger all over my blog. I’m sure I’ll calm down and feel really silly, eventually. For now though I’m just plain seething with the injustice of it all.


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