Internet Anonymity

Anonymity has long been a part of our culture, from the many historical songs and books that have the author “Anon”, to the more contemporary notion of Ghost Writers, anonymous donors to charity and witness protection programmes that we occasionally come across in the movies. The internet phenomenon of anonymity however has developed into something much more prevalent and is a very real topic of debate among web users today.

We all of us have different internet User Names or Avatars with which we communicate ourselves to other people on the internet. The act of signing up to a new blog, forum or social media site requires that we provide a name and picture of ourselves so that we can contact others with mutual interests and discuss topics relevant to the site itself. The issue over the last few years has been the prevalence of some to create fictitious monikers for themselves and then to act out against society through this moniker. One needs only to glance at the average comments on a You-Tube video to get a glimpse of the content to which I am referring.

Trolling is a phenomenon that came into existence because of the lack of formal, civilised structures on parts of the internet. The basic premise is that one poster can essentially say what they like about another poster as everyone is entitled to their opinion, or in the mind of a Troll, “everyone is entitled to my opinion”. The purpose of “trolling” is normally to derive humour for a situation, and though it may not be funny to the poster, there is certainly an audience for the jokes as web-sites like this and this, show.

There are, as one would expect conflicting views on Internet Anonymity. There are those who argue that it is anyone’s right to create a moniker for their own usage on the internet and a basic right to have freedom of expression when using the internet. The opposition holds that there is no problem with someone freely expressing their opinion, so long as they keep the sense of decorum they might find in civilised society.

As part of my research there are two names that have constantly cropped up as part of the debate. On the one hand Christopher Poole or “m00t” as he is more widely known is a firm advocate for internet anonymity. Jaron Lanier is of the opinion that this phenomenon will lead to a degradation of our society if allowed to continue unchecked.

Christopher Poole is the founder and creator of “4chan”, an internet picture board website. 4chan is responsible for many of the internet phenomenon that we take for granted today, such as the rules of the internet and memes.

Poole, or m00t as he prefers to be called, gained notoriety when he won Time Magazines The World’s Most Influential People in 2009. This shocked many people at the time as he had been relatively unheard of before this and went on to beat people like Barrack Obama and Oprah. The reason for his success was the fact that it was an online poll, which the Internet fixed. Not only to the extent that he won, but also so that the first letter of each of the winners names, when printed in Time would read: m.A.R.B.L.E.C.A.K.E.A.L.S.O.T.H.E.G.A.M.E.

moot is notoriously private yet he has consented to a few interviews, the most important of which I think is this:

Jaron Lanier is one of the creative minds behind Virtual Reality and has been an intellectual thinker on all matters technological and internet related since  the mid 1980’s.

He is probably best known for his book : You Are Not a Gadget, which he refers to as a Manifesto. Lanier is of the opinion that all information should be free to access by all and that through this process we can begin to learn more as a species. He has spoken out against advertising and social media. He also has an issue with the application more than the concept of anonymity. He feels that though it is important that everyone is able to express ideas and opinion; it should not be to the detriment of other people’s opinion.

The arguments in both cases seem to share the belief that all information should be free and that everyone should be entitled to this information. Whereas Lanier believes that any block to this freedom of information should be reasoned out, Poole’s web site has unfortunate links with what can only be described as a militant wing of the internet, “Anonymous“.

Over the last year, more and more people have become aware of the actions of this group, mainly due to the actions of the group towards those they considered an enemy of the Internet as a result of new legislation in the form of: S.O.P.A., P.I.P.A  and A.C.T.A.

Anonymous are of the opinion that our basic freedom is under threat by corporations who are attempting to force through legislature that would prevent people from the free accessing of information and artistic content on-line. In response to this they have staged large protests and have hacked several countries in retaliation to what they see as crimes against the public. In these protest they have been very busy.

There is no real way of knowing how this problem of internet anonymity will work out in the future. It is clear that there is a degradation of our societal norms as a result of people’s willingness to comment on other people in a sometimes cruel way due to the remove of having a computer in front of them and not a real person. As technology continues to become more and more involved in the way in which we all communicate, this does not bode well for the future. It is in our hands to decide what is to come and the awareness of the issue can but strengthen our resolve.