Misappropriated Entitlement and Internet Use

Let’s talk about the power of gossip.  No, seriously.  I was thinking about this the other day in reaction to a discussion I had in my Digital Rhetoric class (for those of you who are baffled by this class’s title, it’s a class about how to write for online spaces).  The question that was raised had to do with this illustrious sense of entitlement on the part of users, especially in “anonymous” circumstances.

We talked about the phenomenon that exists currently where individuals who know their identity is unknown often abuse their Internet privileges by interacting in offensive or inappropriate ways.  For example, often individuals will post comments on widely-read media sites and because they feel comfortable in their anonymity, they will express their thoughts in ways that are insulting, degrading, and offensive, and they do so in often short-sighted, prejudiced, completely one-sided manners.  All of this is well-and-good considering our attachment to semi-ascertainable 1st Amendment Rights lent us; however, it seems that this “privilege” is being blurred with “right” and people have chosen to capitalize on the opportunity to engage a democratic forum.

An example of this sort of misbehavior? For instance, a person posts embarrassing information or images on your Facebook page.  Or someone posts derogatory remarks on an editorial piece.  Or someone leaves tasteless remarks on a blog post that was written.  Most likely you’ve seen this phenomenon, or even have been victim to someone’s internet alter-egos. All of these are examples of the freedoms warranted by a democratically engaged backdrop; however, the behaviors would not be as easily discernible if the individuals were visible.  The cloak of anonymity granted internet users is often misconstrued as a sort of power that some individuals see as their right to express.  Because no one can see them, these individuals will involve themselves in online spaces in ways that they likely would not in other, more visible circumstances.

Perhaps anonymity isn’t the only reason.  Perhaps some users simply enjoy the vantage point of web-spaces simply because the virtual world suggests unlimited freedoms? No matter the reason, the message that this behavior sends society tells us that the internet makes interaction much more instantaneous, and, therefore, easily abused.  Writing words on a page would be taken much more deeply to heart were there immediate consequences for abuses: however, since this is not the case, we must take it upon ourselves to generate an acceptable code of ethics when engaged in online forums.  If we want to establish our ethos and uphold it, we must consider that all writing is behavior, and thus all writing has “rights” and “wrongs”.


Posted on June 1, 2011, in Rhetorical Issues. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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