An article in the Guardian has described a new trend amongst students. ‘Spotted’ pages have been set up to allow those studying in university libraries to distract themselves by anonymously posting comments about other students in an online forum on Facebook. Although there seems to be an inevitable movement from harmless joviality and flirtation to pointed abuse extending beyond the unspoken rules of such pages.
The veil of anonymity which such sites thrive on acts as a release to be cruel, malicious and in some cases bullying. In the real world, true anonymity is rare if not impossible and there is a real risk that students engaging in ‘banter’ become accustomed to it and it affects their behaviour in the longer term. What’s more, bullying and online ‘trolling’ can carry with it severe penalties, with about 650 people being criminally charged last year for offences on social media sites including harassment and racial abuse.
Some universities are now clamping down on such sites, often following direct student action. Bullying and causing serious and malicious offence is not accepted in civilised society and no one should be afforded the protection of anonymity in such circumstances.
Employers may also be faced with similar circumstances, whether it be via postings to an internal intranet site or, more traditionally, on the back of a toilet door. Either way, businesses are compelled to tackle any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination, no matter what the medium.