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May 02, 2013 7:47 am

EDITORIAL: Anonymity vs. accountability

Written by Ilene Olson

Threatening Facebook post at UW has far-reaching ripple effects

An anonymous, vulgar and abusive posting on a Facebook page last week created turmoil on the University of Wyoming campus and the Laramie community, spilling over into statewide debate.

The Facebook page, UW Crushes, used Survey Monkey to launder the identities of people who made posts. It has since been taken down.

The posting threatened sexual violence against Meg Lanker-Simons, a well-known liberal blogger and radio host, and Lanker-Simons said the posting frightened her. That prompted throngs of people to come to her defense, both online and in person, and it led to an anti-rape demonstration on the UW campus on Monday.

It also resulted in a backlash of postings, also anonymous, justifying the threat or minimizing its seriousness.

Then, about three hours after the anti-rape demonstration, the University of Wyoming Police Department issued a citation against Lanker-Simons, alleging she wrote the posting herself and lied about it. She is charged with interference.

Lanker-Simons later denied the allegations, and she has hired an attorney to fight it. She is considered innocent until proven guilty, but if the allegations against her are true, she did considerable harm to causes she normally promotes, and people who supported her would be justified in feeling duped and betrayed.

Whether or not Lanker-Simons created the posting as a hoax, the incident raises all kinds of red flags.

For instance, it illustrates the deceptive and abusive environment that can be created by anonymity. Unfortunately, people often feel free to say things under anonymity that they would never say if their names were known and they were held accountable. Anonymity also allows people to misrepresent who and what they are and to hide their actions and motivations behind a curtain of secrecy.

The situation also highlights the fact that the bitter the political fight between conservatives and liberals has gotten completely out of hand and past reason — at the local level as well as nationally. What ever happened to civility?

But more alarming was the backlash from people who minimized or justified the posting and its inferred sexual violence. Comments ranged in nature from “What’s the big deal?” to crude and vulgar statements agreeing with the post.

One of the worst fallouts from the anonymous post is the damage done to women. The malicious nature of the post, and the vicious backlash that followed it, surely left some female students at the university feeling less safe than they had before.

In addition, women — and men — who fear for their safety in similar situations are likely to be more hesitant to report their concerns after the frenzy that occurred over the past week.

No woman, man or child deserves to be bullied or threatened with violence of any kind for any reason, regardless of personality, political views, style of dress or any other perceived differences.

Facebook and other social media can and should be used to help people stay in touch with friends and loved ones and to get and share information. Social media never should be used as weapons.

We live in a civilized state in a civilized nation. Let’s take back our civility — and our accountability.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link May 08, 2013 5:23 am posted by John

    >...the backlash from people who minimized or justified the posting and its inferred sexual violence.

    We've seen no evidence of this. Ms. Lanker-Simons has already admitted making the false threat, why should we assume any of the alleged "backlash" is any more legitimate.

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