Faceless Communication

Posted: October 10, 2016

Faceless Communication

Faceless communication has become an issue in today's society due to the impact that modern technologies have had on interpersonal relationships. Stephen Marche argues in “The Epidemic of Facelessness” that “the face has been at the root of justice and ethics for 2,000 years” mainly because the face offers a personal touch besides enabling us to interact and socialize. Thus, trust and a better relationship is created. Further, the traditional laws required one to have seen the accuser for the verdict to be executed (Marche). For this matter, facelessness refers to having no physical identity and it is the result of virtual interactions, which have become much more present over the last decade. In a faceless communication setting, there is a tendency for people to mention things that they are unlikely to say in person. Hence, rash judgments, unrelenting outrage, and vulgar insults have sprouted. This form of communication demonstrates a profound divide in the social lives of modern humanity. The anonymity that results from this form of communication can make it more likely that people will cross moral lines of the online environment and, therefore, a profound source of anger and disrespect is exhibited.  

One of the primary reasons that faceless communication is so powerful in a negative way is the fact that the people who use it are often anonymous, and therefore, their inhibitions are lowered. Thus, anonymity is an important factor that leads to online harassment and shaming. Those that harass have a sense of safety, because no one can find out who they are, and this necessarily increases the possibility of them going beyond the bounds of social norms. A distance is created by online communications as there is no true identity. Our need to share something through faceless communication may lead us not to consider feelings of other individuals.  Thus, not knowing their target places, the online users fall in a unique category.

In the article “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”, Ronson talks about how shaming individuals Twitter was in the early days. For this reason, he saw the need to find out the feelings of those being shamed by interviewing them. Justine Sacco was among the few Ronson interviewed as she was a victim affected by an online campaign. Sacco, a senior director of corporate communications at IAC tweeted jokes without knowing the impact that it would have on her career. Before boarding a plane to Cape Town, Sacco sent a tweet that read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The tweet led to a global trend that would later render her unemployed. She got trolled by angered Twitter users, who in turn insulted her, because they thought that she was being racist. The most common tweet to insult her was “woman needs help.” We ought to be cautious when dealing with faceless communication channels like Twitter. Sacco’s ignorance with regard to the use of Twitter is a good example of facelessness. In response, angry comments were addressed to her as it had now become a form of idle entertainment. Both Sacco and her trolls exhibit facelessness. Initially Sacco had twitted without considering how it would auger with online users and the impact it would have on her life and consequently online users made fun of her without caring how she felt.

Another factor leading to the negative power of faceless communication is its increasingly unstable environment. The level of anger and disrespect that people are willing to express in an online environment has only been increasing. There is the demonstration of greater intensity and the fact that people, despite the technological change, are still affected by mob mentality. Through this influence of others, we might oversee the morals of using online communication channels and share what we should not.

Owing to the many discussions taking place online, whatever we post can be easily misunderstood, leading to counter-attacks. Even though the volume of people that we met online has increased considerably, they are not viewed as people. The online platform enables us to meet thousands of people in a single moment through their handles. The communication that occurs affects those involved in a real way with others, exceeding bounds of common decency. Thus, those with a hateful intent can be made even worse. Saying things such as, "you're ugly" can evolve into "go kill yourself." 

Lindy West, in the first act of the podcast “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS”, wonders why “people online can be so cruel” (West). Someone used her father’s name to create a Twitter account and write nasty messages to her. Her father had died 18 months earlier it could not have been him. Facelessness enabled an individual to do this given than his or her true identity is not known. On another instance, Lindy being comedy writer and a committed feminist killjoy wrote an article about an online contest she found in between internet circles. Included were feminists and comedians. She was trying to sensitize these individuals concerning matters related to rape but due to mob mentality, Lindy ended up being trolled. Lindy’s trolls were fueled by insensitive comedians who humiliated her in the name of cracking jokes. Mob mentality also contributed in this trolls as supporters of the comedians saw their comments funny.  Hence, it demonstrates that "whenever there is removal from life, biological inter-subjectivity disappears. Hence, empathy and compassion are taken for granted" (West). The dehumanization that results from faceless communication is, therefore, evident. There are significant moral implications, as this process destroys the moral obligations that people have towards one another.

While it is difficult to deny the extent to which faceless communication channels have improved our lives, it is nearly impossible to go a day without using them. Thus, this is one of the reasons why faceless online communication is powerful in a negative way. Online communications can have real world effects. Monica Lewinsky, an advocate for a better social media environment uses here experience to give an insight into the impact facelessness communication has to those being humiliated whenever scandals arise. Lewinsky, in her Ted Talk “The Price of Shame,” indicates that shaming can have profound consequences on people's lives. It is evident that during the period of the scandal, she was severely affected by social media, losing her job and suffering from public humiliation owing to the improbable romance with the then United States head of state, Bill Clinton. The news was all over online communication channels as the scandal came along with the digital revolution. She found out that she could not hide from her shame, unless she cuts out technology use altogether. She says, “What that meant for me personally was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide.”. She demonstrates that she had to face the shame even though she was under confrontation to overcome it. Her scandal had come along with digital revolution, which meant that she received humiliations, not only from reading the newspaper, watching television, or listening to the radio, but also from the internet.

From the cases of Lewinsky and Sacco, it is evident that it overwhelmed their lives completely. Sacco’s case is obviously an example of the “faceless” public’s pleasure in insulting a person, even though that person tried to defend herself legitimately. The point when ideological motives transform into pure malevolence is still disturbing and characterizes the faceless communication best. In the early stages of social media, only large corporations and government entities were affected, by the pursuit of public justice. However, online trolls, who are part of faceless communication, eventually began to target "not just powerful institutions and public figures but anyone perceived to have done something offensive” (Ronson, 21). Individuals were targeted by online campaigns which were not only meant to sensitize them but also were humiliating and brutal. Therefore, online users should care about the feelings of other individuals while doing their best to sensitize others and not creating a form of entertainment.

Faceless communication has both useful and harmful elements. Despite the shortcomings that are inherent in online environments, such as mob mentality, there are still a variety of uses for faceless online interactions. These applications are rooted in the need to bring more technology to more people, so that they can control the growing power of their businesses and works.  There is a demonstration that all of the humanity has some stake in the development of faceless communication. Technology plays a crucial part in our lives and through its use, we should bear the responsibility for our actions. Thus, we should embrace faceless communication, keeping in mind our morals.

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