It was only 21 years ago that NBC’s Bryant Gumble and Katie Couric were puzzled on a Today Show segment by the whole idea of the Internet. Does the “@” mean “about” or “at?” they asked. (You can find the now-amusing clip on YouTube at “what is internet?”)
The Internet and social media have come a long way, Bryant, evolving into a convenient way to express opinions and gather information. People can say just about anything they want, with few repercussions. And therein lies a problem: Hiding behind a computer screen offers a false sense of anonymity and encourages a lot of mischief, some of it rather nasty.
Just ask Curt Shilling. The Boston Red Sox legend had just congratulated his daughter on Twitter for making the college softball team when some trolls posted nasty (and of course anonymous) messages on Twitter. Many victims feel helpless, embarrassed and shy, leading them to decide it’s not worth the effort to find the culprits. After all, how can you break through anonymity on the Net?
Well, Curt Shilling in his fury found a way. He digitally tracked down his daughter’s tormenters and handled each one individually. His exposure caused some to lose their jobs and others to lose scholarships. Not everyone has the available resources of a Curt Schilling, but actually it’s not that hard to break through the wall of anonymity. In a test using simple Google tools, I found dozens of ways to trace rude posts back to the source.
The Internet is there for billions to use, a most efficient way to have your voice heard. But you have to remember that once it is on the Internet, there’s no going back. When you say something negative or degrading on social media, all a person has to do is search for your name on Google to find out valuable information about you. The average Internet user is never completely anonymous. Think about that before you click “Send.”