The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Anonymity Online has Many Consequences

Pressing the “Enter” key online is more dangerous than completing a spoken sentence face-to-face. It conveys a sense of tangible finality that doesn’t exist in the world of spoken communication, where words can be retracted. Amid developments with the LAHS Secrets and LAHS Compliments Facebook pages over the course of this school year, there has been an increased focus placed on the pertinent legal issue of defamation in the forms of libel and slander. The focal point of the controversy surrounding specifically the LAHS Secrets page lies in a greater issue of students not understanding the significance of online anonymity.

“What students need to recognize is that so much of their lives are lived online and they need to understand how to protect their privacy,” librarian Gordon Jack said.

Students also shouldn’t forget that the momentary satisfaction derived from some of the more light-hearted cracks and musings on the Facebook pages can have legal consequences occur from the more profane comments that are posted by an anonymous contributor to the page.

There has been a precedent set in the past regarding grave legal repercussions for online defamation. As recently as June 2012, a Texas couple was awarded $13 million, following a successful lawsuit for online defamation about falsely-alleged sexual assault.

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“Students have to be understanding about how to keep their private lives private and what the implications are of posting things online,” Jack said.

The LAHS Secrets page in particular was no different as it offered a forum for “secrets” to be posted. Prior to the page being shut down and removed, some profane posts about teachers and students were trickling onto the posts on the page.

“There were some things posted on that page that seem very close to hurtful in the sense that they could permanently scar one’s perception of the teacher,” junior Alex Kuo said. “But the thing is, what I saw from looking at the page once, was that they were interspersed with perfectly funny comments too, so it was really all over the place.”

The fact of the matter is that a single person held the key to all the comments being posted on the Facebook page, which further opens up an issue of potential blackmail.

“And then you realize it’s one person getting all the comments,” Alex said. “That’s kind of scary.”
It may seem counter-intuitive to educate students about seemingly common-sense issues surrounding online anonymity, but if recent developments show anything, it’s that students can’t help but be roused by enticing avenues of gossip.The school should educate students in online safety, and the issues surrounding anonymity, in advisory classes.

“I think that advisory is the perfect place because freshmen, and really everyone, needs that information,” Jack said. “And advisory fits in naturally with the [entire] academic schedule because there really isn’t any other avenue for students to get this information except maybe Health.”

In the school’s inaugural History Week, a speaker from Santa Clara University, law professor Eric Goldman spoke to students regarding the importance of realizing the issues of anonymous conversations that occur online which can result in dire legal consequences. His presentation entailed several cases which demonstrated how social media offered such an immense medium through which slander and libel can occur in a higher proportion.

“We haven’t decided next year’s History Week topic but we’ve discussed potentially making the topic for next year about [the issues] with social networking,” history teacher Dee Dee Pearce said.

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