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Anonymity in Social Media by Joshua Thomas

 

When someone asks me about my life before social media became a part of it, I find it mesmerising to think back to a time when I wasn’t so connected. It’s hard to remember what it was like without having news and information at my fingertips at an instant. But whether you choose to accept it or not, social networking on the internet hasn’t always been there. In fact, it’s only in the last ten or so years since it all took on a life of its own and turned us into media obsessed monsters. Well, most of us, anyway.

 

Facebook, for example, has 1.35 billion users worldwide, whereas the popular photo sharing app ‘Instagram’ now has 300, 000, 000 users. Just looking at those statistics made me wonder how much it’s actually changed our lives. One of the main reasons I love these websites and apps is that I get to see what my friends are up to daily and share with them what I’m doing. I can get up to date on the latest gossip before even leaving my bed in the morning. Other reasons include instant breaking news, staying in touch with every single person I’ve ever met and being able to promote my work to the world quite simply. It’s a great factor in my day to day life. But as much as I love the internet and everything it can do to me, there is a dark side to it which is rarely explored.

 

When we log on to our social media accounts every day, we see a strew of posts from our friends which range from selfies to political debates, but most of those are calm and tame. Mainly because when we write something and post it, it gives people an idea of who we are and what we’re trying to say. Our words and opinions do have an impact, so people tame themselves to what is deemed ‘socially acceptable’ to keep them out of trouble or any form of online altercation.

 

But this isn’t always the case. There exists websites and apps which allow people to post things anonymously, and when given that opportunity, it can get taken advantage of quite easily. Sometimes people use it to post their opinions on politics or even to admit their emotions and feelings without anyone knowing who they are. But other times it can be used as a weapon and more often than not, it is.

 

So I decided to do some research and delve in to this ‘anonymous’ side of the internet that more and more people are becoming accustomed to. I took out my iPhone and immediately went to the app store where I downloaded an app called ‘Yik Yak’ after hearing a few things about it through friends.

 

Yik Yak was unleashed upon the world in November of 2013 by two university graduates Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, both 23. The app allows it’s millions of users to create anonymous posts known as ‘Yaks’, which can be voted ‘up’ or ‘down’ in an attempt to create some form of popularity, gaining the poster ‘Yakarma’ points which, I’ve found out, means absolutely nothing.

People can then reply to posts, also anonymously, and even they can be voted upon. The trick is, the app uses a GPS signal to track you and other users and only enables you to view ‘Yaks’ in your area. And this is where it gets bad.

 

I clicked on the app when the download completed and what I was greeted by caused me to question the human race. Or at least the local users of the app. I saw anonymous posts ranging from slightly surreal to just plain horrible and it quickly became clear to me that this wasn’t being used as another form of social networking. It was being used as a weapon.

 

People were taking complete advantage of the anonymity they had been granted and were writing horrible things about other people in the town. Whether it was someone who didn’t like another persons outfit in town and decided to rant a horrible rant about it or whether someone just decides to name and shame someone they don’t get on with and start with the name calling, it’s all on there and it’s getting out of hand. It may be ‘fun’ to the poster, but to me and a lot of other people out there, it’s seen as straight up bullying.

 

So I looked further into this app and the cultural effect it’s having on people. It turns out that the app is most popular with teenagers, which comes as no surprise to me. I came across a lot of news articles which covered stories about teenagers using it to bully one another at school and college, and despite a lot of complaints, it seems that nothing serious is being done about it. It seems that even bullying has joined the digital age and it’s reaching a concerning level.

 

A few friends of mine are also familiar with Yik Yak so I decided to ask them their opinions on this app and the topic of anonymous posting.

 

“I think it’s so dangerous.” Says Siobhan Thomas, 22. “The victims can’t escape from it. When I was in school and having a hard time, people used to be really horrible to me on a social networking site and through email and my school said they couldn’t do anything about it because it was outside of the school and so I couldn’t even feel safe in my own free time and in my own home!”

 

Jessica Harries, 24, agrees. “Schools definitely don’t do enough to combat things like this. They see that because it’s outside of school that it isn’t their problem. People don’t realise how cruel kids can be. Stick and stones, etc.”

 

So if schools won’t do anything about it, then who can? It seems that it’s up to us as people to learn some form of lesson. And it’s apparent that the lesson should be to really think about what we’re saying before we say it, especially on the internet. We don’t realise the effect our words can have on people and how it can change the way they view themselves. A friend of mine spent a long time building her self-confidence up after a bad time in her life and it was just one horrible sentence from one person that caused all that confidence to come crashing down. It needs to stop.

We need to support one another and learn that everybody is different and everybody has different opinions. And that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is using social media and the internet as a weapon to single out and offend those people who are different and slander somebody just because their opinion may be different to yours.

 

But with anonymous websites becoming more and more accessible (Spotted Llanelli is one example), will online bullying and even bullying in general see a rise or drop in occurrences. Will we be able to put a stop to it? Either way, it’s up to us to decide where to go from here and it starts when we stand together to make a difference. Social media is good for so many things but it can also be the downfall of our society when used in the wrong way.

 

In my future pieces I will be exploring the different ways and forms that bullying is taking shape and raising awareness of the topic. If you have a story about online bullying or a form of bullying that you have experienced that you feel isn’t talked about then get in touch with me at via the West Wales Chronicle Contact Form

 

Thank you for reading and remember: think before you speak.

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