Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mud-slinging, Anonymously

As a privacy-sensitive guy, I have always had a soft spot for anonymity.  But I wonder if things have just gone too far.  Sometimes, I hold my nose and try to read the "comments" on un-moderated platforms that allow "anonymous" to post comments.  Frankly, these comments often sound like monkeys throwing their feces at each other.  And all of this happens, because, well, it's anonymous.  Anonymity has become the shield of the ignorant, the inhumane, and the uncivil.  

I'm all for freedom of speech.  And in some contexts, anonymity is an essential foundation for freedom of speech.  Without anonymity, there would be far impoverished freedom of speech for political dissidents, or whistle-blowers, or other types of speech that are socially desirable, but which put the speaker at personal risk.  Nonetheless, the real question is whether the social benefits of certain categories of anonymous speech outweigh the tsunami of garbage that is being un-leashed behind the veil of anonymity on Internet platforms today.  

It's a hard challenge: can we figure out how to enable the socially-desirable forms of anonymous speech, while filtering out the anonymous slime, without turning into censorship engines?  

On this blog, I do not allow unmoderated comments.  In other words, I welcome your comments, but I review all comments before they are posted here.  I am not censoring the critical comments posted anonymously (you need only take a look at them to verify this).  But I do delete the many comments that are spam, or blatantly ignorant or hate-speech.  Really, a picture of myself hiking without a shirt should hardly prompt an outpouring of homophobic rants, but well, sadly, it did.  

As I grow older, I think more and more sites should reconsider the idealism of the early web, when many of us believed the world would be a better place, and privacy would flourish, by enabling people to express themselves anonymously.  Forcing people to use their real names on many sites might stop much of the grotesque defamation, hate-speech, cyber-bullying, ignorance and incivility that we are all enduring today, under some out-dated (and algorithmically ordered) view that "anonymous" should be free to say anything.

It's not easy for an Internet platform to figure out how to balance the benefits of anonymity against the lack of accountability that goes with it.  By the way, I use my real name for this blog.  Here's a picture of myself, vulnerable and unclothed, covered in mud on the Dead Sea.  If you want to comment with a homophobic or anti-Semitic rant, would you dare to use your real name?  I'm not writing a blog to give "anonymous" a platform for bile.  

I predict the Web tide is going to start ebbing away from anonymity, with a sea-shift back to real-world identity.


j_lebling said...

Hey. This is an essay for school that I wrote about the concept of Privacy:


Tell me what you think?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymity has become the shield of the ignorant, the inhumane, and the uncivil."

Maybe so, but real names policies, at least as currently implemented, do next to nothing to remove that shield. As recently demonstrated by Facebook's 80 million fake accounts, a real names policy does not compel real names use. It's no trouble at all for a bad actor to employ a series of disposable fake-name accounts. Meanwhile, rule-abiding users, who were going to be civil anyway, have lost their shield of privacy. In either cases, the promised politeness dividend from the real names policy is a no-show.

Helen Weis said...

Hi Peter, we would like to send you a copy of our new e-book 'Deep Web Secrecy and Security'. If you go to our website - www.deepwebguides.com - and email us we will forward a copy to you. PS: love the bog!