Gates: Internet anonymity makes us face uncomfortable truths, to our benefit


Matt Gates, Columnist

We hear all the time that the Internet has changed the world. It has supplied people with massive amounts of information at the click of the button, it revolutionized the economy and it provided people with the ability to interact with great anonymity. The last of these innovations is by far the most notorious effect of the Internet.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information describes the online disinhibition effect as how “some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” The Internet lets people say things they would never say if they had to show their faces while speaking. Teenagers take their own lives due to online harassment by peers or adults. People abuse the anonymity of the Internet to commit financial crimes. Anonymous users make sites dedicated to hating certain groups.

But the anonymity of the Internet is not always such a bad thing. Recently, NU Class Confessions dedicated itself to giving Northwestern students the chance to anonymously share how their financial situations impact their college experiences. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to express the truths and views that they are uncomfortable revealing in public.

Some of these confessions reveal personal circumstances that may surprise the greater NU community. One student states, “I am a Northwestern University student on food stamps. We exist.” Perhaps this person would be uncomfortable being open about his or her situation to the larger NU community, but we all benefit from this admission.

Others voice strong or controversial opinions of class at NU, ones that aren’t necessarily politically correct. Some people may be very offended by the anonymous posts stating that students who cannot afford NU tuition should not “complain” about its financial aid system. Anonymous posters asserting that “if you’re poor and going into major debt to go here and not working your ass off to get a degree in engineering, science, economics, etc., you’re a fool and I have little pity for you” may easily set off other students. These comments may offend many students, but would we be better off if we did not know these ideas existed within our community?  

Finally, others discuss the topic of gaming the financial aid system by hiding some of their financial information. While this practice is infuriating to many, awareness of it could lead to an improvement in the system. 

Hearing some of these confessions might anger us. They might even infuriate us. But is that always a bad thing? Would we be better off if we were ignorant of the fact that some students look down on their peers because of their socioeconomic status or that a student’s roommate told that student that he or she is good at cleaning because of the fact that his or her mom is a maid? 

The anonymity of the Internet is not always a bad thing. It allows us to tell truths that we would otherwise hide.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].