Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

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

TOPICS: Browser, Google

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

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  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    Your proposal is naive in the extreme.

    While a small per centage of anonymous online transactions (including, but not limited to, anonymous blogs and other similar types of commentary) may possibly be considered as "abusive" by someone, somewhere, somehow (remember, this is largely a subjective issue - what you consider as "abusive", I may not), there is a far larger set of anonymous discourse that is made so for obviously legitimate reasons:

    - Consumer advocates warning everyone else about defective products;

    - Whistle-blowers, reporting on government and industry misdeeds;

    - People who are disputing the power of corporations and industry organizations (classic examples : MPAA, RIAA, etc.);

    - People making software tools (classic examples : CSS decrypter code for Linux, programs to make iTunes work with non-Apple devices, "jailbreaking" code for mobile phones etc.) that, for one reason or another, some powerful corporation or industry organization, wants to suppress;

    - People who advocate "controversial" social, political or sexual points of view (for example, someone who advocates gay rights, but who does not, for reasons of discrimination, want his or her real identity to be made public);

    And so on and so on.

    Anonymity on the Internet became an established practice for very good, legitimate reasons, and developments such has happened lately in the "Skanks in NY" case are a very regressive step. Nothing would make abusive corporations, industry lobbyists and repressive governments - to say nothing of self-appointed, crusading censors like the "IWF" that you seem to be so happy with (who appointed THEM the arbiters of what I can see on the Internet? certainly not me, or the government where I live) - more happy, then to always be able to identify anyone they don't like, so they can then turn their huge financial and regulatory resources on whomever they want to shut up, bankrupt or harass.

    I can't believe that you're endorsing that. You should be ashamed of yourself and try to think through the likely consequences of what you advocate, in your column.

    • But then you forget something

      [i]Whistle-blowers, reporting on government and industry misdeeds[/i]
      This person was not doing any of that.

      [i]Consumer advocates warning everyone else about defective products[/i]
      This person was not doing any of that

      [i]People who are disputing the power of corporations and industry organizations[/i]
      This person was not doing any of that

      What this women did was hide behind a screen name and blog site, slandering another human being. Out in public they can see your face, so their is no anonymity there, why should that change here?

      Otherwise you could have anonymous, disgruntled ex-employers posting fictitious things online about you, which could result in not being hired at another company.

      Would you not think it fair that the person behind those posts should be revealed to you?

      I believe that courts can order people to reveal these perpetrators.

      [i]remember, this is largely a subjective issue - what you consider as "abusive", I may not[/i]

      It is not what you feel is, but what the other person feels is. If I feel that slapping you in the back of the head every morning is not abusive, well, it is all subjective, is it not?
  • LOL

    "they have to hold themselves accountable for when they are inevitably punched in the face"

    violence = good
    anonymity = bad
    • Violence...

      if it doesn't solve all of your problems then you are not using enough of it :)

      I wonder who originally wrote that one...
  • End ALL anonymity, once and for all

    Taking the anonymity out of the internet would ruin all the fun for the legions of sociopathic manchildren who spend hours out of every day harassing, heckling, hating, insulting, and hoaxing. I would welcome an internet where anyone would have to account for themselves and any comments they make.
  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    "Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.... It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse."

    -- United States Supreme Court decision No. 93-986 April 19, 1995
  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    Since the Cult of $cientology is known to be revengeful, mean, evil and destructive to all its opponents and critics, they want to stop us from exposing their secrets and sins.

    They still use "fair-game" tactics and have destroyed the lives, health and financial well-being of many.

    They will place hundreds of lawsuits against you to break you. They are just like the Mafia, but they use brain-washed RONBOTS to follow you and beat you up and set you up to get you arrested.

    They are the most revengeful Cult in the world. They will stop you even if they have to kill you--which they already do.

    That is why many want to stay nameless.


    ronbot hunter
  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    anonymity is important for honest people, but let the world know the identity of anyone who screws up people's property on purpose. That can be a computer or spray painting a garage, car, or whatever else they want vandalize. Hackers are criminals and should not get anonymity any more than any other criminals in the world. I think some of them should meet Sadam's fate.
  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    Zack, your premises are idiotic. How, exactly, are we going to police "identity" on the Internet.

    As a matter of fact, I don't even know if you exist. Could you please post your SSN, license, and the address of where you live here on the blog? Even then, you could have made it up.

    Perhaps we should be less concerned about someone's identity and more of what they actually have to say. Libel is only as powerful as the idiots listening to it.
  • RE: Should the anonymity shroud be lifted online?

    An underlying aspect of <a href="">anonymous blogging</a> is that it has less credibility if seriously assessed by level-headed and objective parties. Nonetheless, there is a new dynamic with the conundrum of vindictive and anonymous blogging. Although these allegations will appear suspect, if the target is being assessed for a job, consulting applications, babysitting work (or courtship), then the person conducting the due diligence will probably look at the potential PR risks associated with attaching to the poor dupe. Although the prospective employer may see past the vitriol, the decision maker needs to wonder about what their customers and partners will presume if less clever & open-minded.