Keep Calm: A is for Anonymous

Morwenna Jones 23 April 2014

Morwenna is a second year English student at Murray Edwards.  After an eating disorder made her go a little crazy and take a year out, she realised that there's no point in taking Cambridge too seriously and that we all need to fundamentally calm down.  This means that she now spends most of her time panicking about what to write her columns on instead.

A is for Anonymous

At school, I did Model United Nations.  Actually, I was such a cool kid that I was Secretary General of Europe’s biggest Model United Nations conference, at which I received a note from a teacher from a visiting school. It was about our decision to debate a resolution calling for the Arab Spring Crisis to be resolved by a bikini party.  I kid you not when I say that it read: “Miss Jones, I am utterly appalled at your disgusting intolerance for foreign customs.  You have disgraced yourself and your school and we will not be returning to next year’s conference”.

After some investigation, it was revealed that a pupil had written the note, then signed it as her teacher to give it some authority and because she was ‘too scared’ to do it herself.  Yet, my reaction upon receipt of the note was to turn an odd shade of green, run outside, and promptly vomit into a flowerbed. 

Needless to say, I’m a wimp and don’t like being told off, but that doesn’t change the fact that the behaviour of the other girl was completely cowardly – behaviour we’d scorn even more if it had occurred outside a debating theatre.  Today, none of us would consider leaving someone an anonymous note essentially saying ‘you’re a tit’ just because they’d done something we didn’t like.  We see it as cruel, immature and frankly beneath us.

So we do it online instead.  Trolling, defined by Urban Dictionary as ‘Being a prick on the internet because you can’, is by no means unique to Cambridge.  Even today, award-winning journalist and novelist Howard Jacobson had one of his articles on The Independent website brusquely summarised as ‘ridiculous’. 

In Cambridge however, trolling manifests itself on The Tab.  At the time of writing, on Patrick Brooks’ interview with Charlotte Ivers of ‘Somebody Else’s Cambridge’ fame, the comment with the most likes is ‘both of you are twats’.  On an article on the CDE handing in a giant cheque for ‘Sod All’ to the Union Society, the third most-liked comment is Conrad Landin’s question: ‘The biggest c**t in Cambridge?’; the second comment on Mary Beard’s defence of college wine bills is ‘Yo Beard: basically every one of your claims here is bollocks’. 

Now I have a little confession to make: I have been a troll.  I trolled my ex-boyfriend, who, as far as I was concerned, deserved to be publicly humiliated, given he had seduced half of Cambridge. But not only did everyone apart from me already know about his exploits, nobody else cared in the slightest.  The only person who felt humiliated was myself and it remains one of the most pathetic and embarrassing things I’ve ever done. 

It was a desperate plea for attention, which is exactly what trolling is all about.   The difference is that trolling is anonymous – a craving for someone to click on the upward facing arrow and validate the viewpoint of your incorporeal online persona.   It’s probably one of the biggest oxymorons of our age as it seems utterly pointless until you put a name to a comment. 

‘X’ isn’t going to abuse ‘Y’ publicly because they are afraid of the abuse they will get, although they are quite happy to abuse ‘Y’ anonymously. ‘Y’ could be a person, it could be an inanimate object or, more commonly, a viewpoint that ‘X’ might be afraid to disagree with.  Rather than grow up and come out with what you want to say, anonymous commenting means you can subtly hide behind a witty innuendo-inspired pseudonym.   

Yet even then we only say things half-heartedly.  Rather than writing down what we really think, we sum it up with a brief, profane insult, and this is where we need a think… 

How do the actions of ‘Y’ affect you?

Do they really affect you sufficiently to merit you calling them a twat?

Rather than take advantage of anonymous commenting to insult, deride and mock others like children in a playground, why don’t we use it for constructive criticism?  If you want to urgently feel the need to insult someone online, I suggest you act your age and consider: is ‘twat’ really the best you can do?