When Blogs Attack!
But anonymity is also ripe for abuse. Just imagine if you had the power to say whatever you wanted to somebody—without fear of recognition or reprisal—wouldn’t you be tempted to give somebody a real telling off (or worse)?
Anonymous comments, pseudonymous blogs and fake Internet identities give anybody and everybody that power—and some use it for less than scrupulous purposes.
Sometimes, those purposes are just pathetic, childish cries for attention—such as anonymous comments on the blog of a plus-sized writer calling her a “whale” or a “cow,” or comments on the blog of a promiscuous author, labeling her a “slut” and a “whore,” while suggesting she’s riddled with STDs.
But on other occasions, they can be much more sinister.
“Anonymous” in Action
One blogger, for example, had her secret identity “outed” by an anonymous commenter on a public forum—who posted her name, address and even where she worked for everybody to see.
Although the targeted blogger’s site wasn’t especially provocative—it outlined her sex life and included the occasional half-nekkid Thursday picture—she felt violated.
“Even worse,” she later wrote, “I realized the only person who could have ‘outed’ me was one of the bloggers I’d befriended via email, and exchanged letters and gifts with.” To this day, she’s still not sure who it was.
In another example of anonymous comments being abused, a popular sex toy website in the UK found itself hit with a slew of terrible reviews that seriously hurt their commercial ranking. Eventually, the anonymous poster was tracked to the IP address of a rival company that deliberately planted fraudulent, bad reviews to make their products look better than the competition.
That story, at least, has a happy ending. Once shown the evidence, the rival company was forced to make a formal apology for deliberately trying to misinform people.
Nevertheless, it just goes to show what mischief a single, maliciously minded commenter is able to do behind the shroud of anonymity.
It gets worse.
Just as legitimate sex bloggers create names, brands and “identities” online, so too do illegitimate bloggers, sometimes create wholly fictitious identities for suspicious, malicious or even criminal purposes.
In one example, the author of a blog claiming to expose the “Skanks of New York” wrote what masqueraded as “satirical” jibes that, in truth, were just an extended and malicious personal attack against a female rival.
Posting real-life pictures of her, along with personal information and accusations of “whoring” and drug taking, the blogger was only forced to stop her campaign of cruelty when a New York judge ordered Google to reveal her identity.
The blogger was left exposed—just as she’d exposed the object of her spiteful obsession. However, it was not without some backlash: It was the first case to test the fine line between libel and freedom of speech online, and revealed just how much damage could be caused in the process.
In an even more sinister case, a much-loved female sex blogger was recently exposed after years of writing about sex work, and giving advice to young adults (some of whom were underage).
Most of us thought she was exactly who she claimed to be: a well-seasoned sex worker eager to help inform and educate about sex work and sexuality. However, “she” was eventually revealed to be a “he”—a middle-aged bureaucrat who’d crafted this female façade to facilitate his own real-life rendezvous with sex workers—and then used his fake persona to engage in inappropriate online encounters with minors.
The Power of Anonymity
If you want a demonstration of the raw power of “anonymous,” all you need to do is look to the newspapers. Over the past few weeks, the Wikileaks story has dominated the headlines, revealing how a few anonymous contributors can cause the very foundation of law and government to tremble.
It’s telling that the nameless collective of “hacktivists” who attacked eBay, Mastercard, PayPal (and other companies deigned to have “betrayed” Wikileaks) operate under the same moniker: Anonymous.
Anonymous chose that name because they realize just how much power anonymity gives them—and what they can achieve, or destroy, behind the cloak of it.
And as a result, many people are looking at Internet anonymity in a way they’ve never had to before—having to decide whether it’s a force for good, or one that can too easily be misused.
There are two camps:
Some encourage accountability from members by linking their online identities (which are, in themselves, anonymous) to the ranking, commenting and rating they do online.
But other web users take the opposite approach. I used to be one of them.
I was a fierce defender of anonymous commenting right up until a coward from a British web forum I frequented decided to leave a “funny” comment on a picture of my son suggesting we have him euthanized “because he’s ginger.”
(A comment so “funny,” apparently, that they were only willing to make it anonymously.)
As a result, even I’m not sure where I now stand on the subject. And perhaps it doesn’t matter because I believe we’re currently in a golden age on the ’net, able to do so much anonymously.
It will never last.
Because of the power that anonymity gives—and how easily it can be abused—I predict it’s only a matter of time before Internet service providers, cable companies or even the government intervenes and makes us put our names—our real names—next to everything we write.
And what will happen to the Internet—and sex blogging—then?
Will you have the guts to literally own your words, or will discretion, once again, become the better part of valor?