Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s marketing director and sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, recently stated that supposedly the best fix for cyberbullying is removing all anonymity online. Claiming that “people behave a lot better when they have their real names down [and that] I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors,” Zuckerberg thinks that exposing cyberbullies would dramatically curb online harassment and hate speech.
Indeed, Zuckerberg’s recommendation may make actions on the internet more salient in real life, and can subsequently lessen the prevalence of homophobic comments and other forms of hate speech online. People seem less likely to post risky and inflammatory statements online if those acts can be linked to their offline lives and appearances. Yet a lack of anonymity online can also present complications for the management of cyberbullying.
Tyler Clementi’s tragic suicide was triggered by online bullying, and more specifically, bullying in the form of public “outing.” His personal privacy was breached when his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used the social network Twitter to circulate an intimate video disclosing Clementi’s sexuality. At the time, Clementi was unprepared to come out as gay. His “outing” on Twitter came prematurely, and he was ultimately unprepared to deal with its effects. Although Clementi was able to cope with Ravi’s first circulated video, the second time Ravi uploaded a personal video of Clementi to Twitter, Clementi (posting on an LGBTQ-oriented internet forum) said that act “really set him off.” Clementi’s loss of privacy led to insecurity and eventually, suicidal feelings.
For Tyler Clementi, the loss of online anonymity was harmful, and public “outings” online have emerged as a new type of cyberbullying. While Randi Zuckerberg is correct in saying that no online anonymity facilitates the finding the culprits behind online hate speech, homophobia, and cyberbullying — Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, was easily found as guilty for contributing to Clementi’s death due to his lack of anonymity on Twitter — an absence of online privacy is also threatening to some. Many LGBTQ individuals used simple and text-based 1990s and 2000s-era internet chatrooms to anonymously experiment with different identities in order to fully realize their own. With social networks like Facebook and Twitter increasingly becoming an online extension of real-life social circles, individuals have lost the ability to anonymously experiment with identity. Social networks are now strongly connected to reality, and while this new online transparency provides a means of finding and stopping cyberbullying, this loss of anonymity also deprives LGBTQ individuals the opportunity to freely express themselves online without fear of real-life repercussions.