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Ethics of Anonymity Online

By Amy Brown
6 Mar 2015

When your name remains detached from something, most of the repercussions from saying certain things seem to disappear. The issue of anonymity online is nothing new – people have been sending hateful comments to people from behind a computer screen for years. Cyberbullying is a hot topic and a major issue among children, teens, and beyond. On college campuses, including DePauw, the anonymous app Yik Yak has become a breeding ground for hateful comments whose authors are concealed behind the shelter of anonymity online.

Yik Yak has caused numerous problems, closing high schools due to bomb threats, spreading racist hate, and bullying messages calling for specific students to kill themselves. The app has breed far more hate than it has funny, parody messages like the developers say the app was intended for. Despite geofencing attempts to prevent the app from being able to be used near high schools and instead used by college students, the app still has many issues. The reason behind the app being so popular is understandable; the ability to post whatever you want without concern is tempting, and you may receive validation from people who have no idea who you are that your content is funny, correct, or interesting. Prindle Director Andy Cullison was quoted in an article for Atlanta Magazine as saying, “the approval of strangers seems authentic in a way that approval from friends, who might feel social pressure to support you, does not.” With anonymous apps such as Yik Yak, you can receive bulk validation or rejection.

The cost of online anonymity is something to consider. Is it ethical to hide behind the Internet? What’s the price of this ability? Join us this upcoming Monday, March 9th at 11:30 AM in the UB Ballroom for a presentation and discussion on the topic of anonymity online. Lunch will be provided on a first come, first serve basis.

Amy graduated from DePauw University in 2017, and was a Hillman Intern and the Digital Media Assistant Managing Editor at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. At DePauw, she was an Honor Scholar and Political Science major with a Russian studies minor. She has spent time abroad in the Czech Republic and now works in Washington, D.C.
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