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Massive fail - the anti-social world of social media

By Adam Ferrier - posted Tuesday, 3 November 2009

I was a bit of a front row nerd at school - it comes with the territory of being State Under 12 Chess Champion in 1983.

This once-confident whale has lost its spark and bubble.

I can clearly remember one occasion at school when I put my hand up to answer the teacher’s question and felt a sharp whack on my head. Someone from the back of the room had scored a direct hit with a rubber. I looked around but could not identify the culprit. The teacher didn’t see a thing.


Needless to say from that moment on I kept my hand down, and my views to myself. Today I see something similar happening on the Internet, and today’s “rubber” is “the anonymous comment”.

The anonymous comment is the bastard child of the Internet and social media, and is akin to giving the back row of the classroom an endless supply of rubbers, and perpetual amnesty. They are free to attack an author at all levels while remaining completely unaccountable for their actions. The impact of this is a constant fear of a pelting, and therefore suppression of speech and expression.

Most people need to feel safe before expressing their opinion - especially if that opinion is new, controversial, or open to judgement. Therefore under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to freedom of speech is in part “the right to hold opinions without interference”. However, “the anonymous comment” is direct interference and intimidation. Many people will be reluctant to express themselves for fear of ridicule, judgment, or derision. There are little bullies sitting behind their computers everywhere throwing cyber rubbers at people’s heads everyday.

The ugly effect of this is twofold: a) those with certain views will stay quiet, leading to an increasingly homogenised world, one where difference to the norm isn’t tolerated; and b) the loudest voices will belong to those with the thickest skin. The sensitive person won’t put their hand up under these conditions.

The irony is that social media was going to give everyone a voice. However, in the new world order where everyone is anonymously policing everyone else’s behaviour there will be no one left brave enough to use this new found tool. Under such conditions scary things start to happen; without freedom of expression we soon lose freedom of thought. Social media may well be killing our entire society one anonymous comment at a time.

As Voltaire said “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”. Although the platform for freedom of expression is provided - no one is defending our right to use it safely.


In my industry, marketing, the two main blog sites (Mumbrella and Campaign Brief) are rife with negative commentary from “the anonymous comment”. I am sure it’s the same in all walks of life. So to the editors, and contributors of these platforms I implore you to out the anonymous and don’t accept their comments. Take away the bullies rubber supply and let the intelligent, sensitive, nerds in the front row have their say too.

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First published in The Punch on October 27, 2009.

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About the Author

Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist. He blogs at Why people buy what they buy.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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