Anonymity fueling cyber bulling, University Hospitals psychologist says

CLEVELAND - "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is an old idiom, that we've all heard or said before, but is it really true; especially, when the words are online and anonymous?

According to University Hospitals psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Janata, the old saying was a way of coping, but wasn't the reality.

"Words are and can be enormously hurtful. Some would argue words can be more hurtful than sticks or stones," Janata said. "It was a way of talking ourselves through not being hurt by another's harsh comments, but it was not the truth of it."

A Wisconsin anchorwoman's decision to respond to a viewer who wrote an anonymous criticizing her weight has touched people across the country. She took four minutes to let the man know who she really was and the challenges she faced. The video went viral within hours.

This incident is only one of many where people are attacked by self-proclaimed critics online.

Janata said unfortunately being anonymous, especially online, allows people to say what they want with little to no repercussion.

"It can be very hurtful to people to have an anonymous attack, in part means that you can't respond, there's no one to respond to," he said.

Janata said what the anchor did is rare because most people don't get to defend themselves.

"What our research tells us is that people are much more likely to express feelings that they otherwise would not if they know that they aren't individually accountable, if they know they're anonymous," said Janata.

"So angry impulses, bullying, critical comments and on the other end of the spectrum expressing very, sensitive personal emotions, sadness and regret all are facilitated by a sense of anonymity."

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