published Thursday, August 21st, 2014

In Tune: Cloak of anonymity emboldens cyber villains

I’ve always found the concept of masked superheroes confusing. Needing to hide one’s identity has always seemed more desirable to villains, yet some of the most devious of comic lowlifes — Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Loki — make no attempt to disguise themselves.

I mean, Two-Face shows BOTH his faces to the world. Talk about brazen.

Granted, some heroes’ attempts to remain incognito amount to little more than a bit of fabric around the eyes, an especially baffling tactic employed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (If you see a giant turtle, just assume it’s a ninja, even if it’s not wearing a headband.)

Regardless of the flimsiness of the attempt, however, masks are fundamentally designed to obscure one’s identity. However noble their motivations for doing so, countless instances have proven that anonymity often leads to decidedly unheroic behavior, especially on the Internet, where practically everything is done or said in perceived anonymity.

Never was this dark side of online facelessness more apparent than in the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide last week. While most people went online to honor the comedian’s legacy and mourn his loss, a handful of very rotten apples trained their sights on his daughter, Zelda.

The 25-year-old found herself inundated by a wave of hateful tweets from a pair of users who called her offensive names and — inexcusably — blamed her for her father’s death. These accounts were later shut down by Twitter and their despicable content was far outweighed by thousands of supportive messages, but Williams suspended her social network accounts, “maybe forever,” she wrote in her final Tweet.

This kind of behavior is as unfortunate, sad and disgusting as it is inevitable. When people are able to act with anonymity, they say and do things that — hopefully — they wouldn’t in the light of day. For some, it removes the moral obligation of being accountable for one’s behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. The Internet is the ultimate evolution of the village green, an incredible forum that has connected the world in ways that were inconceivable even 20 years ago. That interconnectedness is as mindbogglingly amazing as it is powerful.

And as comics books taught us long ago: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Last week, that power was used irresponsibly. This time, the villains were wearing the masks.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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