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Anonymity And Evil

June 5th 2013

In 1974 the performance artist Marina Abramovic stood in a room for six hours with 72 objects, which she allowed the audience to use in any way they saw fit, while she remained passive no matter what. During that performance she was stripped naked, pierced with thorns, cut, and had a loaded gun pointed at her.

Abramovic's assessment of it later was: “What I learned was that... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.”

Perhaps you're wondering what her experience has to do with Louth this week. When people think there will be no comeback from the victims, that's when we get to see the ugliest side of human nature. And we've certainly seen aspects of that ugly side on Facebook, with the advent of a page devoted to publishing anonymous messages about people in the town. Many of these posts were cruel; others will probably have libel lawyers rubbing their hands in glee. But possibly the majority were ones that objectify people, mostly women, on the grounds of their appearance.

That page had over 1600 likes before it was shut down. Digest that for a minute, for a town of Louth's size.

People are not objects

If I said, "I'm assessing you in a sexual way. I'm going to give you a score, and I don't care how you feel about this," you might feel I was out of order. Even if I gave you a high score, you'd be right to feel offended.

That's exactly how I feel about the "hot or not" style anonymous posts. They're degrading, as they reduce people to the objects of someone else's gaze, and create the unspoken assumption that the way a woman looks is the only way to judge her. Not her intelligence, kindness, community works, sporting prowess, or any other aspect of her life. It's not the 1950s any more, and we don't have to put up with it.

Sense of humour fail?

This page tells people it's all about "banter" and "gossip". The pernicious aspect of this is that it implies those people who don't like the page don't have a sense of humour. That's a manipulative piece of sophistry intended to trivialise the feelings of the people being victimised.

If you saw the page and were offended you are normal, and decent. And probably want to wash your eyes out with soap.

When the tables are turned, and this kind of treatment is meted out to the men who do it, it's often so much easier to see why it's wrong. So I will point you to this story of Brosie the Riveter at The Hawkeye Initiative, which illustrates the point.

Mushrooms

You may be wondering why I haven't named the page in question. It has already closed, thanks to people reporting it with complaints. The person behind it has been creating similar new pages, but I can't see them being anything but equally short-lived. These pages sprout up like mushrooms, and I don't want to encourage people to visit them and spread the bile.

Anonymity?

Presumably one of the reasons people submitted comments to the page in question was the promise of anonymity. But on the internet, you're rarely truly anonymous. Your ISP should know who you are through your IP address. Facebook will have information about who signed up and sent messages, at least for a certain period, and it does provide this to the authorities in response to certain legal requests. So anyone who isn't carefully covering their tracks isn't truly hidden.

At the end of Abramovic's performance, people ran away in order to avoid being confronted about their actions. Whoever is responsible for these Facebook pages probably isn't as anonymous as he or she thinks. When that person's identity is revealed, will he or she be running, too?



 


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