The Masquerade Ball of Anonymity on the Internet


Janani Ravikumar

Reddit user Naratto posted a meme on the night of April 6, 2013, depicting a forlorn-looking baby black bear with the caption: “My sister had an abusive boyfriend. I killed him with his own drugs while he was unconscious and they ruled it as an overdose.” Innumerable angry responses and Federal Bureau Investigation later, the original poster dismissed the post as a joke. Was Naratto just trolling and trying to perform a social experiment over the Internet? Or, worst case scenario, was the user being completely serious about murdering another human being?

As many of you are well aware, the Internet is a vast and mystical place, where you don’t have to wander very far to find the good, the bad, and the ugly. Manners and etiquette can go out the window if you so desire, since you don’t technically know the people you’re talking to (unless it’s over Facebook or email). On sites such as Tumblr and Reddit, where anonymity is encouraged, the chances of personally knowing a majority of the people you interact with are slim.

What is it that makes online communication so appealing? Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have to look at the people we interact with. We have time to construct our responses so we can be witty and erudite, when we’re just blubbering bags of flesh that aren’t even half as snarky in real life. This, and the mask our fake screen names provide us, makes us want to pour out our hearts and souls to all who are willing to listen (or read). We can be anything we want to be, and others can either ignore us or accept us for what we are.

The truth is, we just want to be loved. Albeit by nameless, faceless people on the Internet we normally wouldn’t give a second glance in real life. We want to be accepted. No one really knows who we are, so it’s okay to divulge our life stories to them, right? The chances of finding one of those creepy stalkers our parents warned us about when we were younger are slim, right? In the end, no one cares, right?

Not entirely. There are genuinely kind people who care on the web, whether it’s someone you know in person or not. These individuals, who do care, and aren’t just on the Internet for kicks (maybe for most of the time), are the ones who reported individuals like the user Naratto. Listen to your parents and beware of what you put on the Internet because you can be sure that someone, somewhere, will be reading. What happens in the Internet doesn’t necessarily stay in the Internet and, as Naratto is now painfully aware, stupid things you say or do can have repercussions in real life. The Internet is a masquerade ball, and we’re all Cinderella—it’s not that hard to track us down after we’ve made an impression.

Stay classy on the Internet, people. Before you post something, ask yourself: “Would I stand in a crowded place and scream this at the top of my lungs?” Everyone is entitled to their 1st Amendment rights—but try to be rational. But most importantly, be smart, because you never know who could be watching, or reading.