The connection between online anonymity and civility

The Connection Between Online Anonymity and Civility

Many people feel that the beauty of the Internet lies in online anonymity. After all, safe behind your computer, you can voice your opinions on a variety of topics without affecting your digital privacy. Yet when the tables are turned and you’re the focus of judgment or defamation on the Web, the online anonymity of the Internet can be a real source of problems for you and your Internet reputation.

Social networking websites have replaced modern news outlets as the place users visit for a connection to the world. The unfortunate part of receiving minute-by-minute blasts of information is that people have an immediate platform for their opinions. In the world of Web 2.0, there’s no cooling off period. People can and do post their views within seconds of forming them.

Due to the anonymity of the Web, there’s a growing trend toward “online hating” as opposed to the civility of mutual respect and good manners. This article will explore online civility and how you can protect your online reputation by avoiding anonymous commentary on the Web.

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Protect your Internet reputation by staying clear of online hating.

Although you may work on the Web and use it for catching up with friends, you can’t lose sight of the fact that many people visit websites for entertainment purposes.

If you spend time reading tweets, status updates or blog posts, you’ll have seen your fair share of online haters. Online haters are individuals who post negative opinions of people or companies on message boards and social networking websites. Twitter and Facebook have given the world access to everyone, including celebrities and corporate CEO’s, and it’s become easy to contact anyone instantly. Unfortunately, many of these contacts are negative in nature.

 

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Negative commentary is popular on the Web.

The surge in online hating is fueled in part by the popularity of negative commentary in the media. Jeff Pearlman, a columnist for Sports Illustrated, tracked down several people who posted malicious comments about him and wrote a commentary about it for CNN. Another instance involved Tina Fey, star of the television program “30 Rock,” who spoke out against several anonymous forum posters when she accepted her Golden Globe award.

Although these public figures may have felt as though they were striking back against anonymous comments, media attention just fuels the desire for people to post more negative content. It’s a vicious circle, and it’s easy to get caught up in it, especially with the guise of online anonymity.

Online civility may be fading in large part due to the popularity of anonymous venting websites. If you have a problem with a large company, you can visit any number of consumer complaint websites and vent to a large audience.

Websites www.complaintsboard.com and www.RipoffReport.com are two of the more popular options for venting on the World Wide Web. A bad review on either of these can send a company scrambling to protect its online business reputation. However difficult it is to maintain a good Internet reputation in light of venting websites, social networking has made it even more difficult to stay on top of Internet reputation management.

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An analysis of hashtag use on Twitter found that people tend to send out negative comments more about brands they’re unhappy with than about brands they love. Specifically, the hashtag #fail can be attributed to providing many large companies with a Web reputation management crisis. Tweets are a quick way to let off some steam, and because you can be anonymous, the perception is that no harm can come to your personal Internet reputation.

 

Manage your online reputation by controlling what you tweet.

Although it may seem that the Web can be more supportive of online hating than of old-fashioned politeness and good manners, you can take several simple steps to avoid getting caught up in the frenzy of anonymous posting:

  • Avoid tweeting negative opinions to celebrities or large corporations. It can be fun to tweet, and even more fun when you reach out to celebrities who also have Twitter accounts. Avoid sending negative comments in an effort to receive a reply. The adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” applies to the Web as well.
  • Never practice online impersonation to defame someone. Many fake and “parody” accounts on the Web poke fun at both the famous and infamous around the globe. Many of these accounts appear to be just for fun, but when you use these accounts to purposely hurt people or slander their online reputation, you could end up being charged with a crime. With the introduction of Senate Bill 1411, practicing malicious online impersonation is now a punishable offence in California. Check out this article on why you should avoid online impersonation.
  • Follow the five-minute rule before you post online. When you send a tweet or post on your blog, that information is immediately accessible by large groups of people. The next time you’re tempted to send a negative post, wait five minutes before pressing the submit button. You may change your mind about what you want to write, and by waiting you’ll have saved yourself from potential online reputation management issues.

Online civility seems to be not only dying; the door may have already hit it on its way out. How can you protect your online reputation in light of the ease of negative commentary and the ease of access that the World Wide Web allows? When you focus on creating a powerful Internet reputation, it’s easy to leave the online hating to others, regardless of their online anonymity.

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Shelly Wutke is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, BC. Shelly has been published in Vancouver-based Love Magazine, in local newspapers and on various websites.

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