The Assumption of Online Anonymity.
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.