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How the “Clap Sisters” Online Burn Book Highlights the Problem with Anonymity Online


Image of laptop with fire burning from being over-used

Editor’s note: I was shocked when I stumbled on a post about an anonymous group who started a site that is basically an online “burn book.” I reached out to Brittany to tell the story here on the NMX blog, and I’m so excited she agreed! Since then, the Twitter account for the group has been shut down. There’s been speculation of who was being this group and denial of involvement. If you haven’t heard about this group, take a gander at what Brittany has to say about it – and leave your comments about this blog drama at the end!

If you’re a blogger or even just a reader of blogs, you might have noticed that the whole dynamic of blogging has rapidly started to shift. These shifts have been especially noticeable within the last few weeks. It’s turning into a popularity contest, and we’re not talking page views here. Bloggers are bashing one another about silly things like what they’re hair looks like. We have full-on Twitter wars going on about subjects like copying each other’s ideas (it’s the Internet your ideas will probably be copied here and there, as they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.) What has really turned the blog world upside down are two e-mails that have been sent out this past week.

The first e-mail, from an anonymous group calling themselves “The Clap Sisters” the e-mail was announcing a new website launch for April 13th. This website is dedicated to being anonymous and leaking gossip about fellow bloggers. Their email promises,

“When our site is launched, you’ll have the opportunity to anonymously submit your dirty, juicy clap with us.”

It then goes on to a link to a Google document where you can submit your gossip about your fellow bloggers. An example they give of the gossip they’re looking for:

“Kennedy is a former coke addict that’s been to rehab 3 different times. She always plays up the good girl image, but my best friend was her live in nurse.”

As you can imagine, this started a major uproar in the blogging community. A second e-mail surfaced 2 days later. This new e-mail from a group called “Bloggers Anonymous” who state,

“There are those out there who would love to make each and every one of us feel like we’re nothing. But that is NOT what blogging is about! It is about building each other up, celebrating who we are, and sharing our story.”

That sounds fabulous, it does, but that’s not really what blogging is about either, is it? I think if you blogged just to get a pat on the back about something, you’re blogging for all the wrong reasons. Blogger Anonymous is now creating a countering anonymous site also debuting on April 13th, where you can submit anonymous entries to build a bloggers self-esteem up. Judging by the fact that their official Facebook page only has 23 likes (at the time of writing this post), I believe everyone else feels the same way about this site: It won’t work. It’s just going to backfire.

So, which of these new blogging sites is the one that we should support? Neither.

Both sites are anonymous, which is just altogether bad. When anyone posts on these sites, people are going to start feeling left out if they’re not mentioned. When bloggers start feeling the animosity of being left out they’re more likely to bash bloggers on the gossip site.

What we have to do is leave the anonymity behind completely. If you appreciate someone’s blog, tell them! You can even tell your readers. Ask your blog friends to guest post, tweet about that blog you like, or post a link on your Facebook wall. Just find a way to tell them that isn’t hidden behind smoke and mirrors. If you really have something bad to say about another blogger, maybe you can talk to them about it if it’s constructive criticism, and if you really have to say something bad about their color scheme or logo, vent to a friend over coffee. Ok, yes, talking behind someone’s back is bad, but it’s so much better than posting it on the internet where it can’t be deleted, where everyone will know, and where feelings will inevitably be crushed.

When we decide to start a blog we have to welcome criticism, we have to understand that not everyone will care about your posts, and that not everyone on the internet will play fair. Am I a little bummed that someone obnoxiously posted about one of my recipes being fattening, maybe. Did I let it ruin my day, heck no! Laugh it off, and just keep going with your day. For every crappy comment you may receive on a blog post, I’m sure you have at least 10 great compliments somewhere on your blog.

And for the record, that recipe was super fattening, just like all my recipes. I live in the state of cheese, beer, and all things deep fried. It happens.

Editor’s note: Here’s what some other tweeters have said about The Clap Sisters:







Did you get an invite to join either of these anonymous groups? What do you think of anonymity on the Internet? Leave a comment below!

For Internet trolls, Freedom of Speech is not Freedom from Accountability


anonymity on the internet Every few years, when a well-known and roundly reviled Internet personality is outed by investigative bloggers, a vocal minority attacks the unmasking as a violation of free speech.

The argument, trotted out most recently by defenders of Michael “Violentacrez” Brutsch upon his 4,700-word public shaming by Gawker as “the Biggest Troll on the Web,” boils down to this: “No one deserves privacy, but we deserve anonymity.”

As a highly active Reddit user, Brutsch spent years sharing salacious pictures of underage girls as “jailbait,” voyeuristic photos of women in public and much, much worse, including pictures of dead teenagers. Now that his unsettling hobbies have cost him his job, supporters are claiming that the outing by Gawker’s Adrian Chen is a threat to free speech across Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the Internet.”

This idea, that bloggers are somehow threatening free speech by outing anonymous Internet users, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. It is not an impenetrable shield for anonymity, nor does it make any American immune to accountability for our actions.

The First Amendment protects us from our government, but rarely from each other. In other words, the same law that gives Brutsch the right to say despicable things also gives Chen the right to call him out for it.

In fairness, being confused about the Constitution’s protection of free speech is understandable. The First Amendment is so short, it could be reprinted verbatim in two tweets, and yet it is quite possibly the most complex and carefully parsed law in the land.

The First Amendment is a protection granted by the government against the government. But outside journalistic circles, it typically gets simplified down to the idea that we can say whatever we want without repercussions. Of course we can’t.

Free speech always carries implications far beyond the legal system. It can get you ostracized by your friends, families and peers, not to mention making it difficult to find a job or seek public office. That’s always been the case, but it used to apply only in rare cases of whistleblowers and political dissidents. Today, the Internet has opened the danger of accountability to millions who live in a digital universe where being anonymous is the norm instead of the exception.

In times gone by, anonymous authors and snarky gossip columnists made the decision in advance to hide their identity specifically because of the content they were creating.

Today, that model has been flipped. Many Internet users begin within the comforting cloak of anonymity and then, seduced by the lack of consequences for their actions, start saying things that they would never say in public. Some devolve further into trolls, clutching that anonymity cloak as if it made them invisible. When it is suddenly stripped away, they realize just how precarious of a situation they’ve made for themselves.

Their only hope at that point is to recast themselves martyrs of free speech. They see their impending accountability and use it to terrify their legion of anonymous Internet peers. “Today, they came for me. Tomorrow, will they come for YOU?”

That’s an argument that occasionally has legs. When a record label sues an Internet service provider for the names of its users in hopes of finding an illegal downloader, we all get nervous. Companies rarely have the right to know about what we each do in the privacy of our own homes, and all of us are right to be concerned.

But in the case of Internet trolls like Brutsch, we’re not talking about being exposed for our private actions. We’re talking about being exposed for our public actions. We’re talking about accountability.

And it should be noted that Brutsch did relatively little to hide his identity. He attended public Reddit meetups and put himself up for questioning in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Q&A session. Brutsch’s wife and son are reportedly active on the site, as well, and have linked their accounts to his. His voice even appears on podcasts. Chen didn’t subpoena anyone to learn who Brutsch was or rifle through the man’s garbage; he just put a few obvious clues together once he got the right tip.

When word got out that Chen would be publicly identifying Brutsch, some Reddit moderators retaliated against Gawker by removing links to the popular blog from the areas of Reddit that they curate. The Politics Subreddit moderators went so far as to say they were punishing Gawker for its “serious lack of ethics and integrity.”

These moderators are well within their rights to evict Gawker. However, in the process, they send a pretty hypocritical message: “You suppress our guy and we’ll suppress you.” Since when do Redditors wage their battles by limiting access to information?

Reduced traffic is a consequence Gawker and Chen were likely prepared for. There’s no law guaranteeing them fair treatment on Reddit, just as there is no law guaranteeing outed trolls like Brutsch fair treatment anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Bigstock

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