Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

Summary:With a blogger now suing Google for breaching her anonymity, after the blogger was sued defaming a celebrity on gratuitous levels, questions about online anonymity have been raised once again. Thoughts spoken aloud

The online-anonymity factor has caused even more uproar and controversy with the recent Blogger fiasco, one of the sites owned by Google, which led to the lifting of anonymity of an online abuser.

The background to this case sees an anonymous blogger posting defamatory photos and abusive captions of Liskula Cohen, a Canadian born model, who subsequently tried to sue the blogger. For this to happen, a name would need to have surfaced. Google resisted the move, but after a judge signed a court order, Google provided the registered details of the blog which may or may not have been true. It turned out the registered details were in fact genuine and the identity of the anonymous blogger was revealed.

The anonymous blogger now named as Rosemary Port is now suing Google for $15 million for "breach of anonymity".

Website communities such as 4chan are built on anonymity. The group, "Anonymous", which has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks and, albeit sometimes rather funny, "raid and invade" activities such as hacking Facebook accounts.

moot, the founder of 4chan, told me some time ago:

"'Anonymous' imageboard culture started with 4chan. 'Anonymous' the group traces its roots to 4chan, but splintered off after the whole Scientology thing. 4chan's '/b/' board in relation to 'Anonymous' the group; they aren't the same thing. I can't speak for the 'Anonymous' group."

I cannot see why the difference in human socialisation should be treated differently in the online and offline world. The fact of the matter is that even a seemingly anonymous comment on a website, forum or blog - through an alias or otherwise - is still sent by an actual person in the direction of another person. After all, the vast majority of content on the web is generated by humans.

The only difference is that one can hide behind a shroud of secrecy - that is, unless they are sued in one way or another.

My argument is simple. The things we write on the web should not be anonymous in any way. If you said something defamatory or offensive to somebody in person, not only could they identify who you are by the way you look, but they have to hold themselves accountable for when they are inevitably punched in the face.

So just because you have an online handle or an alias shouldn't excuse you from saying what you really think on the web. The anonymity shroud should be lifted because if you couldn't get away with saying something in the offline world - why should you be able to get away with it in the online world?

This isn't to say that what we do online, where we go, who we speak to (with the exception of social networking because it is obvious who we speak to) and what we look at shouldn't be anonymous. With this, the only exception should be images, media and content which has been flagged already by the IWF or Interpol as illegal content.

The debate opens up when those without unrestricted access to the Internet such as China need an element of anonymity to protect them from their own state. This is an entirely different kettle of fish, and to some extent the wider web doesn't apply to China. Their access to the Internet is controlled by the state and the rest of the web cannot really intervene.

Not only would an identifiable web open up the potential for more lawsuits, I believe that the content will be generally toned down. No more will you have personal abuse spouted in comments and forums, because the anonymity factor would not exist. You represent yourself and yourself alone.

Even with all this said, it's merely a thought said out aloud. Would this work?

Topics: Browser, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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