View Full Version : The Assumption of Online Anonymity.

11-25-2012, 12:02 PM
Recently, I've been thinking about the internet's rather overwhelming negativity. From comment threads to extended critical resources to straight trolling, the web's explosion has been blanketed by a deafening chorus of complaints, insults and bucolic world-weariness. What's always been so surprising to me is not that the balance leans towards the negative, but rather that it should have run itself into an endless digital dystopian scream of abusive word-vomit. It's amazing that we should have managed to turn something that is such a pervasive part of our lives – something that we claim to love and need and hold up as the finest human accomplishment and our true companion in the information age, as the first step on the path to the new interconnected 'humachine' singularity – into such a fucking negative stream of bits of information.

As a companion to that, I was thinking about the veil of anonymity that we take for granted in our online interactions – as if to be without physical voice or physical body is somehow to lose our identity. It's something which has been built into the fabric of the Web at this point, through screen names and open sign-ups and the voiceless inflections built into the tapping of keys. We become brave when wrapped in symbols we don't recognize or think about, much like we become knowledgeable enough to cast judgement when we are sufficiently removed from events.

While hilarious outbursts like asking if 'u mad bro' or whether I even lift – I totally don't – mirror the inscribing of physical aggression onto the digital space, they are statements which are both idle (because what more can be punished aside from the digital avatar?) and uncontrolled (because why check your rage if there are no consequences?).

I honestly think that these are dangerous developments. I'm not necessarily a crypto-Luddite, though I get why it might come off that way, but I don't think we have the social tools to differentiate between the online protection we receive and our greater public conduct. Just spitballing, I can suggest two reasons for this. The first is that there are areas of the internet where anonymity is stretched and blurred, like Facebook, so that we begin to apply a broader spectrum of connection between the online and non-virtual spaces of interaction. The second is that we have begun to truly be 'connected' in a constant sense, so that the times of social contact are overlapping.

Anonymity protects people who become little shits and provides outlets in which consequences have ceased to exist. It's become an expectation of an extra layer of protection in which people can come up against the boundaries of their own hateful little minds.

It's a shame, really. Anonymity could have provided outlets for people working in dangerous conditions, or attempting to communicate from repressive regimes, with a degree of freedom which could have been nothing but a net positive. Increasingly, control over ISP use and domain control means that even these outlets are being taken away. Instead, we extend the protection of facelessness to provocateurs who don't provoke, to reactionaries who suffer from an inability to communicate, and to protesters who can move their wrists just far enough to type our their usernames on online petitions. We know who Bradley Manning is but the average user of the internet can't even back up their words with their names. We judge simply and easily but we lose our shit when a man taking pictures of underage girls in public has his name revealed.

My name is Thibault Kervarech. This is what I think, and I honestly wish we could change the internet's infrastructure so that people are more easily held accountable for their actions and the thoughts they claim to have while anonymous. I don't mind disagreement but I've grown sick of the overwash of juvenilia choking me wherever I click.

11-25-2012, 12:41 PM
I think you'd agree with this then.


11-25-2012, 01:26 PM
I disagree. Anonymity is good. Most people are good. People who are being mean are bad. As you say, it would not be the same issue if people behave the same way as in real life online. However, it might be other social issues that causes people to take their anger out on unknown people. All you can do is to behave and be a role model.

11-25-2012, 02:01 PM
I disagree. Anonymity is good. Most people are good. People who are being mean are bad. As you say, it would not be the same issue if people behave the same way as in real life online. However, it might be other social issues that causes people to take their anger out on unknown people. All you can do is to behave and be a role model.

But why is it good, Jojan? We take it as a given in the infrastructure of the internet, and in many ways we're 'worried' about our privacy while browsing, and while a lot of that is bullshit as well there's a good foundational argument to be made. But this isn't about browsing, it's about anonymizing someone's behavior and the negative trends that it seems to needlessly encourage. Aside from 'anonymity is good well it just is' do you have a reason for it?

Because when you point out that all you can do is behave and be a role model, you're wrong. If you force people to back up their comments with their identity, they suddenly become visible in the eyes of others - and to a large extent this makes them socially visible in their own eyes. It's that small voice suggesting that maybe you're being an unreal tool when you suggest that the fucking raghead Muslims should just move back to their own country if they aren't happy with the way things are here. Feel free to say it, but know now that we can see who you are.

11-28-2012, 09:58 AM
Anonymity isn't just protecting assholes and trolls. Cutting communication down to text strips 90% of our language away, and makes us all pretty much blind and guessing when it comes to judging other people on the internet. You know those creepy guys you meet from time to time, the ones with serial-killer lips and cold dead fish eyes, who smell like rape and warm milk, the ones that you just nod nervously and mutter empty platitudes to while you clutch your car-keys as tight as you can and curse yourself for letting your self-conscious masculinity prevent you from buying a rape whistle? On the internet, those guys could be anybody. And you'd never, ever know.

In a non-anonymous internet, people might get beat up for being assholes on the internet once in a while. It won't change how they act, and way more people are likely to get raped in a rape-dungeon because they e-flirted a little bit with a guy who turned out to be a rapist who could easily find out who they were and where they lived. If it wasn't for anonymity, people with the slightest bit of common sense wouldn't talk to strangers on the internet, ever. And I kind of like talking to strangers on the internet, knowing that they'll never ever show up at my front door with a roll of duct tape and a 12" dildo.