As a society we value our privacy and within such privacy

As a society we value our privacy and within such privacy, or “the limitation of others’ access to an individual” as defined by Ruth Gavision, we are able to protect ourselves from the outside world and those who attempt to harm us. Of the three elements that Gavision has developed, anonymity is defined as “the protection from undesired attention.” And so for cyber bullies to be able to hide behind a screen and protect their identities are ideal for them to not only be able to say whatever they would like to but also not deal with the consequences and so the question is: is this ethical?
Ethics is defined as “the rational process focused on certain principles.” When determining whether or not anonymity and cyberbullying are ethical we take a look at the morals of the society as a whole. Many societies can agree that when making a normative judgment on such issue we can conclude that bullying in all forms are unacceptable and the “protection” that gives an advantage to cyberbullies (anonymity) is far worse because of the fact that the identity of the bully is essentially unknown. At least when bullying takes place in person it is easier to control and to condemn the bully.
Morality is defined as “a system for rules guiding human conduct, and principles for evaluating those rules” can also be referred to as “rules of conduct.” In the case of cyberbullying, the micro-level ethical rule that is relevant is the directive of “do not harm others.” Bringing harm and discomfort to others intentionally is agreeably immoral by all populations since it violates a rule of conduct that is placed within our society.
Cyberbullying, when defined by Erin Peebles, is the “repeated activity conducted via electronic means with an intent to cause psychological torment.” According to Peebles article, Cyberbullying: Hiding Behind the Screen, cyberbullying comes in many forms including: harassment or threats/insults, impersonation, spreading rumors, impersonation, outing and trickery and finally exclusion. These can all take place through social media outlets and through texting along with e-mails. In recent year cyberbullying been “cited as the highest contributor to adolescent suicide.” This fact not only violates the basic rule of conduct but also infringes on one of the seven prima facie moral duties developed by William D. Ross that “one ought to avoid injury to others (noninjury).” This is one of the moral duties in which persons’ must embody, according to Ross, in order to establish moral reasoning. It is one’s duty to avoid cyberbullying because of the implication of injury to another person.
When comparing traditional bullying to cyberbullying there is an apparent difference. Traditional bullying is extremely limited in the sense that the action of bullying only takes place in person whereas cyberbullying can follow you everywhere; its never ending and almost constant. An essential part of cyberbullying is that it provides anonymity. Anonymity is allowing anonymous posts and interactions where a person’s identity cannot be located through a computer’s IP address or usernames. Looking at the definition, “anonymity can also be used as a description when the actual name/identity of a person’s offline presence is more difficult to determine even in the obvious existence of an online one.” Those who partake in the bullying are known to be less remorseful since they cannot see the emotional reactions of their victims. According to the New Natural Law theory, Spinello states, “whenever one intentionally destroys, impedes, or damages one of these goods (basic human goods, such as happiness) that should be allowed to be, there is moral evil” (Spinello, pg. 21). Thus, perpetuating the overlying fact that bullies are morally corrupt. To be more specific, the universalizability principle or the “Golden Rule” Germain Grisez explains “for a will marked by egoism or partiality cannot be open to integral human fulfillment.” In a general sense bullies believe that they must protect their egos and conceal their insecurities by picking on others in order to reach their fulfillment by undermining the happiness and fulfillment of others. The Internet perpetuates ‘egocentric reasoning’ where cyberbullies are so concerned about gaining credibility from their peers that it’s at the expense of others’ wellbeing.
Anonymity in the case of cyberbullying has its definite drawbacks; “it permits cowardly users to communicate without civility or to libel someone without accountability” (Spinello, pg. 87). It gives individuals a sense of confidence in being able to say whatever they would like when in reality they most likely wouldn’t be able to say such things in person. Staying anonymous is not considered beneficial whatsoever to a society especially when it is overused or used improperly. Anonymity can be morally acceptable when it is used for those who would prefer to keep their privacy in order to escape their offline personas however when used to facilitate bullying, then it obviously becomes a problem. Anonymity is especially prevalent in certain apps such as the once popular Yik Yak; this app allowed college students to anonymously post information about themselves and others and eventually the app took on the role of facilitating cyberbullying (Yik Yak eventually was shut down by its creators). Living in a democratic society, however, completely alleviating anonymity would go against the values (one’s judgment on what is important in life) of our population and how we believe in protecting out privacy. Anonymity is considered to be a positive good and is valued as an instrumental good (or a value that serves some further end or good) in the realm of achieving full actualization of free expression.
Many individuals believe that closing your computer and staying away from social media will solve cyberbullying and anonymity however it isn’t as simple. Stated in the CNN video, cyberbullies can extend their hate through text messages as well as other means besides social media outlets. It is impossible to stay away from technology in this day in age and therefore unreasonable to argue that cyberbullying is avoidable. Being emotionally hurt by cyberbullying is very much preventable however avoiding it entirely is unrealistic. The Utilitarian theory expands on the belief that the right actions will maximize a human’s wellbeing and reduces suffering. Cyberbullying causes unhappiness in general to victims and does essentially leave them with some level of suffering. This theory boils down to understanding what is right and what is wrong and it seems that when a person is behind a device the lines blur. According to Thomas Harrison’s paper, cyberbullies believe that it isn’t necessarily wrong or immoral when the other person cannot see you physically or know who you are. They argue that they aren’t really hurting anyone and their empathy for others diminish. Therefore, the feeling of guilt diminishes as well due to the space between they cyberbully and the victim. On a practical level the Utilitarian theory requires individuals to make moral decisions through a cost/benefit analysis. Based on one’s analysis of a situation they should be able to determine the consequences of their actions. Though the Internet makes it absolutely difficult for individuals to determine such consequences they may face since there aren’t such regulations or laws in place that will decide repercussions for cyberbullies’ actions. This ties into the reason why many don’t feel guilty when engaging in cyberbullying.
Companies such as Twitter and Yik Yak can also be morally responsible for what is happening on their platforms. Without their websites, cyberbullying may be substantially reduced. According to CNN’s video, Facebook has added buttons that are able to flag inappropriate and harmful content and Twitter has also taken such measures to save their reputation. Though it is very hard to condemn companies for what their users are saying; it should be their moral responsibility to regulate a level of restriction on what amount of anonymity is allowed. At the end of the day just by being a platform that allowed cyberbullying to take place can tarnish the company’s reputation and their integrity. When applying the Utilitarian theory, the greater good that is achieved in this cost/benefit analysis is that the companies save their reputations and help users have access to conveniently report bullying behaviors. This helps with the idea of preserving the wellbeing of their users but isn’t going to be effective as regulations or laws.
In conclusion, anonymity will forever exist throughout the Internet, though it is up to the end users to use their morals and understand what is right and wrong on their own. We can always regulate what is said online and who says it however we cannot regulate an individuals morals and values. Morals can be flexible and easily manipulated depending on situations and especially in the case of cyberbullying, without laws or regulations individuals feel much more sure of themselves and what they can say on the Internet. Cyberbullying whether anonymous or not is still deemed wrong in all societies and cultures and so we must be able to educate our youth (older generations also) and instill the proper ethics for how to act online.