Anonymity online can be a tool or a weapon ­— use it to build, not injure, community

When divulging personal ideas and opinions, some people don’t feel comfortable without a veil of anonymity. That’s why the Internet, offering users an impersonal and seemingly low-risk way to socialize, can provide a more comfortable space for sharing.

From social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to online forums like Reddit and even comment sections for newspaper and magazine articles, multiple Internet places enable one to enter discussions without revealing personal identity.

Many people defend anonymous comments, citing the rights of privacy and freedom of speech. However we believe there’s a thin line between using anonymity to protect oneself and using it as a weapon to hurt others.

According to a 2011 study conducted at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Research Center in 2011, about 10 percent of teenagers engage in anonymous harassment, with a higher portion of boys engaging in it than girls.

Although Internet interactions may seem impersonal, comments made there may have real-world personal effects. Cyberbullying is a psychologically damaging experience, and incidences of cyberbullying in schools across the country have been linked to depression and suicide attempts.

Internet anonymity is also often used to express socially unacceptable opinions. Racist and sexist remarks have been an issue on many campuses across the country, with racial tension originating on social media platform Yik Yak sprouting at American University, Colgate University, and Syracuse University, to name a few.

In a recent article, staff writer Caleb Amstutz analyzed the effects of Yik Yak-based anonymity. The article challenges Yik Yak users to use the anonymous forum to build our community in positive ways because things said on social media have real-world consequences on campus.

Despite there being no way to ensure that people tell the truth on the Internet, the Guilfordian staff encourages the Guilfordian website users to engage in open, honest and respectful discussion. That is why we will change the comments system for online articles, making it possible for people to comment with their real names.

The user’s email address will no longer appear next to the comment, to protect the privacy of the commenter. A site privacy policy will soon be made available.

In times like these, when there are many campus divides and when many students struggle with mental health concerns like depression, it is important to hold to the Quaker values of community and integrity when engaging with fellow community members online.