Should you be allowed to use social networks to post comments anonymously? As a recent, and very tragic, story proves, the short answer is that it depends on what you’ve got to say.
In my view, Facebook, Google+ or any other social network or community site shouldn’t be used to bully or harass individuals at all.
Thankfully, that’s how we operate here on Which? Conversation (check out our commenting guidelines to see more on what is and isn’t acceptable). Unfortunately, not all community sites operate under these simple rules.
Cyberbullying is on the rise
The reason I posed the original question is to do with a tragic story about a teenager who died in February. This week, an inquest found that she was driven to suicide by the awful bullying she received via anonymous postings on a variety of social networks.
The charity Family Lives believes cyberbullying is on the rise. Since January 2009 it has seen calls to its bullying helpline increase by 13% and calls about cyberbullying rise by 77%.
A few months ago, I wrote another news story about cyberbullying. This time it was head teachers who were being driven to their wits’ end by anonymous comments seemingly made by disgruntled parents, pupils and ex-pupils.
The National Association of Head Teachers said at the time that one in five head teachers had been victimised on a social network and that bullying and harassment of head teachers was on the rise. I’m sure I’ll write another story in the near future that runs along similar lines.
Put a stop to anonymous comments
But that’s not good enough. I really believe if we want to put an end to this abuse, where normal people, under the cloak of anonymity, turn into awful internet thugs, then site moderators and owners need to start by addressing the issue of anonymity.
Jeremy Todd, chief executive of the charity Family Lives, agrees: ‘the notion of anonymity on these websites needs to be challenged, because there can be tragic consequences’.
If you’re going to be mean about someone, then at the very least, do so under the full glare of your own name. That way, the target can answer back. They can challenge you openly rather than feel they are fighting an invisible, but all too real enemy.
If site moderators took that stance, cyberbullies would think twice before posting. Who knows, it could even stop it completely. It might move elsewhere, but at least it wouldn’t be on social networks, on blogs or in chat rooms.