Video: The repercussions of an 'anonymous' web

Most of the Generation Y, privacy/anonymity does not appear to be a problem. It's a transient issue, until their privacy and personal information becomes a matter of issue. One teenager, creator of 4chan sparked off the anonymous subculture in magnificent style.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

I have issues with anonymity, but those for my generation it does not appear to be much of a problem; a transient issue, until their privacy and personal information becomes a matter of issue.

Christopher Poole, known until relatively recently only as online handle "moot", created the 4chan community in 2003 and has flourished to one of the web’s most unique communities of images, meme’s, popular culture, and controversy, but with a uniquely trend-setting rule – that all users can be anonymous.

He spoke at the highly influential TED 2010 conference and the short 10 minute video has been released for viewing. While part of me genuinely sees Poole as a great figure for the Generation Y in what one person can single-handedly accomplish from his parents’ basement, but the impact and influence they can have on a wider 7 million-a-month generation.

On a side note, almost every short video talk on the TED website leaves the viewer with not only a great sense of motivation, but well-being and good feeling of human intellect and inspiring comment. I personally and sincerely recommend you watch those which appeal to you.

Now in no way is this a dig at 4chan or the group "Anonymous”, which has its grassroots in the image board site. As someone who works in the online environment, saying such so can resort in 'retaliatory strikes’. The entire subculture created from the 'meme factory’ as Poole describes it in the video is fascinating, and on a personal level I find the vast majority of content hilarious.

But what is "anonymous”? Anonymous to one and other does not necessarily exclude you from identification by the website owners or the authorities. Anonymity is a concept that we have almost fooled ourselves into believing and does not act as a superior force to prevent our identities from being revealed. More rather, it is a facade that we have accustomed ourselves to in a sense of false-security, which perceives one thing but does not grant immunity.

Just by writing this post alone has left behind a trail of personally identifiable information, and there is nothing I can do about it; from the video embedding code to the specifics in language that I use.


It sounds simple enough to the vast majority, but is in fact a growing problem that the younger generation is not fully aware of.

The group "Anonymous" has its roots in the 4chan community, though Poole, when he was still known as only "moot” before his identity was 'revealed’ told me some months ago that the two were not mutually exclusive:

"'Anonymous' image-board 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."

The story of Dusty the Cat shows not only the adoring side of the anonymous 4chan community, but the group collective that this subculture can have. But as many will know the story of Dusty and something that Poole references in his talk, is that it took less than 24 hours to discover who this anonymous cat-abuser was, and a total of 48 hours before the perpetrator was arrested by police.

This anonymous group of people also notably were involved in the capture of an online child sex offender, using 'civilian policing’ techniques.

The group "Anonymous” and its main concept of 'promoting’ anonymity and acting in a way which either in collective, targeting an individual 'perpetrator’ is either difficult or impossible.

I am not strictly against anonymity, but I am a strong advocate of balance. Most of my generation – for those who are again actively involved in the topic which many are not (which, for the record, this is my job – promoting the raw topics of the iGeneration) - take two polar opposites: totally for anonymity or simply not giving a flying toss.

Most governments do not record Internet data directly. Some countries such as China, Burma and Germany (kind of) record data, whereas in most countries the ISP records your Internet traffic but holds it securely under data protection legislation. It can only be accessed by truly democratic governments through a legal request which, being independent of government can have the advantage of it being refused.

Crime is the only reason why this data could be wanted or needed by states. Poole states in the video, after challenged that 4chan’s issues with child abuse imagery have opened Pandora’s box, that there are "plenty of downsides to this kind of environment" but allowing the greater good of pure freedom of speech with no restriction or need for holding back. While many may prosecute against inciting crime or terrorism, sexualising the most depraved and suchlike, in this environment it is simply ignored by the end user, or shot down by 'citizen policing’.

"Saying what you like, can be powerful. Doing what you like… and that can be crossing a line.”

It is so vital to the younger generation to take into considerations the thoughts around privacy and online anonymity, because there in reality is very little. I had three very harsh, angry and in one case violent email over the weekend. By plugging their email address into Facebook, I have their names, one postal address and three links to each of their respective children – and all of their employers.


It’s not say that Facebook is 'purely’ a policing databasebut we all leave traces of our identity behind on the web, like a vapour trail - and social networking and lax privacy controls can make this easier. Some may not be seen by us ordinary Internet consumers, but the very best and worst of what you say, do and see on the web is recorded somewhere, and accessible by someone.

And this will probably not change in my lifetime as information is the new worldwide currency and is a crucial commodity that cannot be lost by the hands of both public and private industries.

The TED video does not necessarily guide the non-Generation Y into a perspective of why the Generation Y is, how it works, what it does and why it does it, but it does show one, stark thing. One person alone can provide the environment and the conditions to change the web and wider culture as we see it.

Do you agree, disagree or just want to feed the comment monster?

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