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Anonymous internet jerks need to take a virtual step back

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Illustration by: Azalie Yanguas | Staff Illustrator

People on the Internet are jerks and it’s becoming a real problem.

The Internet can be a wonderful tool for sharing information and ideas across the world. Unfortunately, it has become a medium for everyday people to act like massive assholes under the guise of “freedom of speech.”

Death threats do not fall under the right to freedom of speech.

The point of freedom of speech is to open discussion and debate between people of all types. Disagreements do happen, but that is the beauty of free and open discourse. If a person resorts to violent threats of death, rape or bodily harm, they are not practicing their right to free speech.

The anonymity of the Internet was designed to let people browse in comfort and have open conversations without the fear of judgement. However, it has turned into a shield that online harassers cling to in order to threaten and berate other Internet users.

A study conducted by University of Houston assistant professor Arthur D. Santana reported that 53.3 percent of the anonymous comments had an uncivil or threatening tone compared to 28.7 percent in non-anonymous comments. Computer screens offer a degree of separation from the users on the other side.

People would not go up to another in public, for the world to see, and tell someone to kill himself or herself, but somehow on the web they do. The interaction is no more secret just because it happened online, yet people feel much more comfortable threatening others when they feel there will be no real-world consequences.

Hiding behind the anonymous button does not make Internet trolls any safer while posting threats. IP addresses can be tracked very easily, whether by the police or private services. Nothing that happens on the web is truly anonymous.

People misguidedly believe a threat is not viable just because it was posted on the web. If the threat causes fear and anxiety in others, the poster can face severe legal repercussions. Before you threaten your ex-wife with a gruesome death on Facebook, ask yourself if you’d be willing to face 4 years in prison.

The laws regarding Internet harassment and stalking are still not at a point where online threats are prosecuted in a timely manner. If a person is threatened on the Internet, they should keep record of all harassment in order to make the process move quickly and be taken seriously.

The Internet has grown exponentially in the last few years, however the arm of the law does not move so quickly. It is up to users to stay safe—report threats when necessary and don’t disclose personal information.

Don’t be a jerk on the Internet. If you wouldn’t threaten someone with death or bodily harm in person, don’t do it over the web. If you would threaten them, I implore you to take a long look at your life and seek therapy.