There’s an old saying that I think everyone grew up hearing from Bambi, our moms, teachers, and just adults in general: If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all. While this is generally a pretty good thing to practice as you grow up you realize that it’s not entirely possible 100% of the time. Just because something isn’t nice doesn’t mean it isn’t valid; the two are not mutually exclusive. You’re going to face criticism and have criticism of your own to give and things are not going to be all sunshine and rainbows all the time. So while you’ll go about your life trying to be nice you’re going to have times where you fall off the wagon and say things that are not, that’s just fact.
The internet is a weird place. And having a persona online is even weirder. It’s something your parents have a hard time grasping and you’re constantly explaining why you’ve been sitting in a coffee shop, hogging an outlet, sucking down Americanos for four hours and calling it “work.”
If these seem like two, completely unrelated thoughts bear with me; it’ll make sense in a second.
Generally speaking, there is no monitor on the internet. I know, really revolutionary sentence there, Kendra.
It all comes down to personal accountability. When you go online you have complete control over the representation of yourself and who you want to be online. You can be parody twitter account, you can be the girl with the flawless instagram that gains you thousands of follows and likes and ultimately makes you white-girl-tumblr-porn, or you can be completely anonymous.
Sometimes, under the veil of anonymity you can be completely harmless or even encouraging. You can say “Hey stranger who published a piece on a website: this resonated with me and made me happy.” Those are days that the comment sections feel like hugs and make you smile.
Sometimes though people find themselves taking advantage of the veil and say things they would never say in person. And that’s where things shift.
I want to call it a problem but that’s not exactly right. It’s not a problem unless someone chooses to make it so. Anonymity and the internet is just a fact. We don’t always like it, and some of us choose not to use it, but regardless of how it feels on that particular Wednesday it’s going to continue to exist. I can call it a problem and get on my relatively small soapbox but regardless of how loudly I yell it’s not going anywhere.
I have chosen in my short time of existing online to not take advantage of the ability to not put my name on something. I have chosen to be completely searchable and relatively easy to find. This has forced me to be able to stand by my work and my words. I can’t use plausible deniability – it’s there. In black and white with my full name attached.
I’m not claiming to be perfect. I have said some things and written some things that now I cringe at. But I have to own that. I have to say “I didn’t execute that to the best of my ability and no, I’m not proud of it” and learn from the experience.
My issue with anonymity is people get to avoid that. It’s the online equivalent of cheating the system. You can go onto a website or a blog and say nasty, cruel and disgusting things and then click out of your browser and it has little to no effect on your life. You have no one to report to, no one to own your words to. You have no consequences for saying something as minimal as insulting someone’s looks to escalating it and claiming you’d rape someone given the chance or bring zip ties and duct tape to their front door.
But for me, for the people you say those things about, those words continue to exist. It shows up when I scroll through comment sections, pops up on my Google search, it hovers over my shoulder no matter how hard I try to get rid of it. It’s a weird little conundrum that’s just part of a life I never knew I’d have.
There’s an old saying that I mentioned seven hundred words or so ago that says “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all.” I realize that this is a naïve thought process to have as an adult and is especially that as far as the internet is concerned. I know that my little essay or stream of consciousness or whatever you want to call this is not going to move mountains or change people who employ their right to be anonymous into suddenly giving me their first, middle and last name but I have a thought for said individuals:
“If you don’t have something nice to say at least say it eloquently and intelligently.”
Leave low blows out of it. Hold yourself to a higher standard of personal accountability. Remember that the person you are coming for is a human being with parents and a laugh and that you have a choice to either say something you would be willing to own should there ever be a day when you’re identifiable or something that would make your real life friends feel uncomfortable being around you.
Or don’t. The choice is up to you.