Discourse / Editorials / May 2, 2013

Thoughts from the Embers: Dangers of anonymity

EmbersAnyone who regularly reads the Knox Confessions Facebook page will have seen the large number of antagonistic posts concerning feminism in the past few weeks. What you may not have noticed, however, was the large “Shut the f— up SASS” scrawled across SASS’s bulletin board last week. There is a level of discourse that should be expected of college students, and this is not it. The root of the problem is anonymity and when, if ever, it is acceptable to use it to express grievances.

As journalists, we believe strongly that there are times when anonymity is warranted — when a person officially lacks the authorization to divulge the information he or she is sharing, for example. Outside of a journalistic context, sometimes a person is anonymously reaching out for help with serious personal issues in a public forum because he or she does not know where else to go, and that person should not be expected to disclose his or her identity to strangers. For these sorts of confessions, the Knox Confessions page can be an extremely useful forum.
But when it comes to those who want to complain or lash out, anonymity can be extremely dangerous. Anonymity allows someone to say hurtful or misleading things without taking responsibility for them. The past few weeks on Knox Confessions and elsewhere have demonstrated what this leads to: anger, name-calling and one-line arguments without any context, not open discourse between people on two sides of an issue.

A lot of the concerns that have been raised on Knox Confessions have to do with feminism as a man-hating philosophy and characterizing Knox feminists as “extreme.” As with any major movement, there are many strands of feminism, ranging from relatively benign to hateful. As one very small group within the grander scheme of things, feminists at Knox encompass a wide range of viewpoints, and generalizing about feminists is just as dangerous as suggesting that they generalize about men. Furthermore, there is a very big difference between hating the system — the patriarchy — and hating every single member of the very large group that has historically perpetuated that system.

That people feel like they have to express their discomfort with some forms of feminism through an anonymous confession page is also concerning. Feminism is too important of an issue to not be discussed openly. This means that those who have questions need to be sure that they will not be attacked for asking them, as long as they do so respectfully. It is one thing to disparage feminism; it is another to misunderstand or lack exposure to it.

That being said, the person or people who wrote “Shut the f— up” on SASS’s poster were anything but respectful. There is no reason to silence a group that has recently been engaged in only open, positive activities to promote a very important cause. Moreover, if the person or people who did this have legitimate grievances with SASS, expressing it anonymously with profanity hardly enables discourse or change.

And that’s the core problem: if you’re not satisfied with the way things are, complaining on the Internet or through anonymous graffiti isn’t the way to change them. Write a letter to the editor to TKS. Go to a SASS meeting and discuss your concerns. (They meet on Thursdays at 9 p.m. in the HRC, for the record.) If you feel the need, express your feelings on Facebook in a well-reasoned, respectful manner — and with your name attached. Anonymity has a purpose, but reaching an understanding about important issues isn’t it.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  anonymity discourse exposure feminism Knox Confessions profanity SASS

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  • :|

    I don’t think people who post things like that want to engage in respectful discourse with anyone. I think they just want to be mean.

    I’d rather they do their little anonymous tantrum and go away. When you try to respectfully reason with people like that, they usually drag you in circles and resort to straw person arguments and ad-hominem attacks.

  • Dude

    While there’s no reason to silence a group that doesn’t hurt anybody, there’s also no reason to respond to people who vent anonymously like that. Responses like this only serve to show that their harassment is working. Be the better person and just ignore them. The same rule applies here as it does on the internet: do not feed the troll.

    On the other hand, all those confession pages on Facebook are really scary. Half the point of “confessing” anything is people knowing who’s talking. What do you actually accomplish by “confessing” anonymously? You haven’t confessed anything at all. It’s a total false sense of accomplishment.
    If I had a say, I’d really discourage using them for expressly the reason presented by this op-ed. They seem to get people revved up over nothing. You can’t get mad at people on the internet.



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