What is it about anonymity that brings out the worst in us? Something about being anonymous fuels the endless “flame wars” on internet message boards and comments sections, the endless “your mom” jokes while playing online video games and recently the rise of questionable Halloween costumes.
This past week, a group called the Sikh Coalition demanded in a letter to retailers, including Walmart and Amazon, that they stop selling an Osama Bin Laden costume because they found it offensive, saying that the costume perpetuates, “negative stereotypes about turbans and beards that have led to violence and discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities.”
In response, Walmart, Amazon, Sears and Rite Aid all pulled the costume though they had no legal obligation to do so, and should not have in the first place.
An Osama Bin Laden costume, is of course, in absolute poor taste, and while I personally do not approve of said costume, I don’t care if other people wear it because it’s their life. They choose to use their own money to do something in their own life that in the grand scheme of things does not affect much.
I don’t like onions. I hate them, I hate that they’re actually in a lot of foods, but I don’t call Kroger, or Food Lion, or VT dining services and tell them to remove all the onions because I don’t like them. That would be ridiculous.
However, people tend to think that the universe revolves around them, when it doesn’t. So what if someone 1800 miles away is wearing a costume for a few hours, how is that a problem?
The problem isn’t a costume, or anything that trivial, it’s what the costume allows us to do — to express ourselves while maintaining anonymity.
As much as society is moving toward open social media, there is a large portion of people that want to stay private. Why? Power.
As seen in the famous Zimbardo experiments, when people feel that what they do has no tangible, real-world affect, they’re going to be aggressive and act without mercy.
It really is an easy rationalization to make, especially online. I’ll just make another account and call this “kid,” because for some reason everyone thinks everyone else on the Internet is a 12-year-old boy, with various dehumanizing insults in the hopes that he gets so mad that he doesn’t respond anymore.
Obviously this kind of thinking doesn’t help, it doesn’t foster any sort of discussion and it creates a vicious cycle because people begin to think that this is the way that conflict is resolved.
The solution to this is not to ban costumes, books or movies because they’re offensive to small portions of the population. That’s only a temporary band-aid, and one that ignites the other side, the people who want to wear the costumes, read the books or the watch movies.
It’s to beat them at their own game, so to speak. People who love anonymity, thrive in it, get drunk on it, love the power it gives it them over other people. We call them trolls for a reason. They want a reaction. Don’t give them one. Easier said than done, I
We don’t have to waste our time finding and banning every Bin Laden, Hitler, Columbine victim or KKK costume. Let them do what they want. Go about your own life, and when they learn that no one cares what they do, that not everyone is looking at them, the power that they once had is gone.