The Power of Anonymity

Anonymity has always been a loophole to gain power. Throughout history we see women writers who, in an attempt to make greater success, write either anonymously (Jane Austen’s first published novel was ‘By a Lady’) or under a male pseudonym (Nelle Harper Lee discarded her first name when publishing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’).

Unfortunately, the ability to remain nameless has also resulted in faceless crime and harassment, with evidence suggesting anonymity can make people meaner. Such anonymity has helped progress the art of trolling, whereby a game is played ‘about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players’.

Trolls obtain power by their ability to deceive other online participants. If they are successful in convincing people that what they are saying, no matter how outrageous, is true, they gain the upper hand. This type of power is often criticised as trolls can threaten the reputation of the victim, and particularly when celebrities are the victims, trolls are known to point out their victim’s flaws, for example the Twitter trolls who criticised Pink for her weight.

However, while the work of many trolls might be defamatory and considered as harassment, such power can be attained by anyone. Unlike Hollywood celebrities who promote ‘narcissism and self-inflation’, ‘superstar professors [who] command high salaries’ or sports ‘players [who] rake in obscene salaries’, anonymity gives way to power that is not rooted in fame-seeking behaviour. A former Anonymous troll explains such a basis as being the success of anonymous communities like 4chan as the ‘primary ideal of Anonymous’:

‘The posts on 4chan have no names or any identifiable markers attached to them. The only thing you are able to judge a post by is its content and nothing else. This elimination of the persona, and by extension everything associated with it, such as leadership, representation, and status, is the primary idea of Anonymous.’

As Miller concludes, ‘it leads us back to the realisation that what counts as abuse, and what counts as lulz, may just depend on which end of the stick we have grasped’. While many playing the victim of trolls may not agree that trolling is a fair and intelligent pursuit of power, we mustn’t forget that the basis of their action is to eliminate any status or position of power they had to begin with. Judgements are to be made on intelligence, humour and personality, not on a prestigious title.

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