Hiding behind the screen: the effects of anonymous apps

by Mahek Khetani | arts & entertainment editor

Hide and seek was always fun as children, but what was even more thrilling was hiding in that one nook of the house where you knew for a fact the seeker would never find you. We’re too old for hide and seek now, but some of us are still hiding in places we know we can’t be found. The only difference is that nook in the house is now a computer screen.

Being anonymous was something that was almost impossible, but now it’s the preferred method of telling tales. Apps and sites such as Whisper, Ask.fm, Omegle and Yik Yak consist of communicating ideas anonymously. They vary from private-but-public diaries, to therapeutic venting, all the way to vulgarity so obscene, even Lucien Carr would be uncomfortable.

“The primary use for anonymous sites like Omegle and Ask.fm is basically provoking people and sure it’s funny but sometimes it’s just disgusting and makes you kinda lose faith in human decency, because they just make people uncomfortable and people are always lying on Omegle, its a website with no photos, no account info, just text and its become a game of who can fool whom best just using their words,” junior Ayesha Meghani said.

As tempted as we are to blame Gossip Girl for this wave of anonymous he said, she said, we can’t because this isn’t about condescending bloggers with a knack for socialites, it’s about our own classmates posing obnoxious and sometimes private content about each other.

“Most people post obscenities about each other on apps like Whisper because they’re cowards and they use it as a chance to diss others but not face the consequences, and I think it’s toxic for people who receive hate because the internet is such a vile place and bullies end up taking it as a way to feel bigger about themselves because they’re not that confident in real life,” junior Katie Besenty said.

Well, so much for sticks and stones… and well, human decency. But before you start rolling your eyes, and try to claim that turning off that monitor is the only way to iron out this dilemma, then you’re in clear need for a 2014 reality check.

Sophomore Travis Pohler
Sophomore Travis Pohler

“It’s such a big competition nowadays to be liked that even the littlest comments can set someone off and trigger that lack of thick skin that the older generation thinks we have. And I don’t necessarily think it’s teenagers getting more vulgar, but I think that’s the outcome when you’re aware that you can’t face the consequences. And it’s horrible to be on the other end of it because it’s constantly in your face,” sophomore Travis Pohler said.

The “Greatest Generation” seems to put themselves on a pedestal for the simplicity that was exhibited in their time period, but let’s be real. If Whisper was a thing back then, they’d be bashing Mary Elizabeth’s high-bosomed, sleeveless dress like there was no tomorrow.

“I’ve had several kids with difficulty being on those sites, and it’s easy for someone to write something when they don’t have to face that person but I students don’t realize the impact words have on others when they write things to upset kids, and the victims have a hard time forgetting. I try help them by telling them that whatever’s being said, is not true. We divert them to the positive things people say to them and concentrate on that, as opposed to someone who probably doesn’t even know you, but it is difficult, people don’t forget easily,” STAN counselor Lisa Williams said.

It’s cruelty, and not to mention an abuse of rights. Virtual harassers are notorious for justifying their words with the infamous excuse for imbecile language, freedom of speech.

“My economics teacher talked about this the other day because we were talking about the amendments and he said that ‘you have freedom of speech, but you don’t have freedom of speech without consequences,’ so you can say whatever you want, it’s fine and you won’t be punished legally, but you can be punished by society. So people can still react and judge you, so it’s not an excuse to say vulgar and obscene things,” senior Taylor Hurley said.

Any action can cause a chain reaction,and if that action creates mental or emotional disturbance, then that isn’t exercising your rights, it’s misuse at a level in which James Madison is probably rolling over in his grave.

“People tend to abuse First Amendment rights, they think ‘oh freedom of speech, I can say whatever,’ but that’s not true, like you can’t scream fire in a crowded building, it’s more politically speaking, you have the right to say your relevant opinion to society but if you’re using it for childish reasons and to say rude things, that’s not executing freedom of speech it’s abusing it,” Besenty said.

So why do we take the risk of our emotions on display, anonymously or publicly? Especially when there are users who own an account just to make others feel virtual hell?

“They need to get their thoughts out, most of them are people who come from broken homes and with family issues so it’s therapeutic. If we post something online about something we’re dealing with personally, it lets you vent and sometimes people going through the same stuff can help or empathize with you in a way that friends or family can’t,” added Meghani.

Because despite the barbaric nature of people with an incognito setting, there are others who truly want to aid those posting their stories about their anorexia, abuse, addiction or anxieties.

So greatest generation and current, all we ask of you is that you stop shaming members of this community, because in the long run, it’s a better alternative to professional therapy.

“It can be very beneficial because when you write to someone who’s experienced something you’re going through, it helps tremendously. I’m hoping we can create a climate where we can establish just that online because the thing with anonymity is you don’t always have to deal with that, whereas with friends, a month later you’re not friends anymore, so with strangers there’s not that risk, so people feel more free, and it can be healthy, it’s always great to have a place to communicate, especially if you can say things and get them out in that avenue then thats always good. A friend may not have the knowledge or the skill to help someone but you have to go back to the golden rule from Kindergarten, think before you do and if you wouldn’t want it said about you don’t say it about others,” added Williams.

It’s a cruel world out there, even some of our writers have felt the heat in the comments section of their stories. And this is a school newspaper for crying out loud, not Taylor Swift’s personal blog.

It all comes down to what’s preached by most anti-bullying campaigns, don’t let words become kryptonite. But if it gets out of hand, contact an adult for help or a hotline or anything that can assist you. We’ve seen what bullying does to people, and it’s not pretty.

“It’s healthy to express yourself but you have to be prepared for hate. It’s something that’s inevitable no matter what you say or do, and it might bend you out of shape but you can’t let it break you,” sophomore Josh Johnson said.

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