Technological culture and the cultural uses of technology: Preparing ourselves for online anonymity #technology #Secret #Whisper #cyberbullying #cyberslander

August 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

An interesting discussion about anonymity and the Internet is taking place around investor ethics and the app Secret. Sarah Lacy, at Pando, schools investors putting money into the app for denying the real harm perpetrated by users of the app to bully and slander without social consequence. In light of the recent arrest of Robert Campbell for over 150 charges of identity fraud, defamation and criminal harassment, the issue of online ethical and moral behaviour is significant and needs to be addressed as a societal response to the power of social media to amplify social connections for good or ill.

I appreciate Sarah Lacy bringing this issue forward. The power of an app like Secret to unhinge a vulnerable target of bullying or slander to the point of committing suicide should be a humanitarian concern for our society as a whole.

I think there is a need for anonymous expression in social contexts. At present our human existence is in crisis on so many fronts it is difficult to enumerate them all: environmental, economic, political, educational, health, etc. Our humanity continues to re-constitute inequality, hypocrisy, and destructive social relationships because we suffer from blind spots and blindsight. The very act of bringing hidden bias, assumptions, or taboo topics into conversation can have the effect of bringing up unwanted painful memories or conditions, or, scapegoating the person who is calling attention to unspoken forces that are wreaking havoc on a day to day basis.

However, there is also a need to mitigate the use of anonymous expression when its power to uncover uncomfortable or distressing realities is used for destructive, rather than productive, purposes. Part of that mitigation can be instilled in the consumer, or reader. If we are taught not to place value on anonymous character assassination or revenge plots, those efforts will simply disappear into the ethernet, languishing in obscurity.

We have whole generations of young people who are growing up with the power of amplification that comes with the Internet and social media. And yet, there is no societal response to prepare ourselves to handle this connectivity, and what it means to be a productive citizen contributing to the good of society. In addition, we have no coherent societal response to bullying and slanderous behaviour either on or off the Internet. For example, we are still at pains to address issues of mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, narcicissim, and the attendant behaviours of mental, psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that exemplify these conditions. It is one thing to have an alcoholic narcissist bullying and abusing friends, family and co-workers in face to face situations. It is quite another thing to place the power and anonymity of the Internet at the fingertips of such a person and witness the destruction they can wreak on others’ lives.

Every new technological development is going to have unintended consequences. We need places to disclose the destructive attitudes, beliefs, and practices that threaten the well-being of our friends, families and colleagues. We also need to be prepared to deal with expressions of hate, prejudice and hypocritical bias when and where we encounter it. Our human relationships with technology are neither technologically nor culturally determined. They are a continuously evolving phenomenon that we can consciously engage.

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