I subscribe to time, and this article hit home for me. It is something I have been thinking about for a couple of years. How long can the internet stay anonymous? I agree with the authors statement

"Viewed as a social experiment in good faith among anonymous equals, the Internet is not succeeding. The masked ball is in danger of becoming a hooded mob."

I believe it because it seems to me that everyday the internet becomes more of a place for smut, than for commerce, academics, information, or science. What is the answer? Should we be asked to subscribe to an authentification service to be on the web? Do we really want the government to step in and regulate?

Please at least skim the article before posting.. Thanks.


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I do not do things on the Internet that I would be ashamed to admit to everyone I know. I also know precisely how traceable everything I see and say really is. I use a screen name because I am worried about privacy and security. As far as I know, I am the only person on the planet who has my name, and I am uncomfortable knowing that millions of strangers have access to detailed knowledge about me. It is unlikely that my use of a screen name is going to turn about to harm me as it did Mr. Mackey because I am hardly famous, I behave ethically online, and I share my screen name with my colleagues. If I were required to use my full real name all the time online I would not participate nearly as much. I would post academic articles and occasionally participate in education discussions. I would not upload photos I had taken, which could be traced visually to my area. I would not post information that would allow me to meet and local teachers face to face. I would not collaborate with others for fear that my name would permanently be on a work that I did not fully agree with.

My problem is that I also believe that anonymity can contribute to disrespectful behaviors online. People are far more cruel to others in writing than they would be if they met in person, however, this does not just have to be online writing; threatening letters and hateful books are still an unfortunate part of our culture. I believe that my duty as a teacher is to demonstrate proper online behaviors and to teach my students to behave ethically and compassionately when they post on the Internet. I intend for this to help prevent such problems in the future.

As for the smut issue that you mention, to register for a website, people must use a real credit card number, which is tied to a real name, and they still manage to fill some areas of the web to the brim with the stuff. Smut exists in the print media as well, the only difference is the creators are granted with fame and regular television appearances. I don't believe that we should just accept this, but since the sources already know that they can be traced, I doubt that removing anonymity will change the situation.

If we are to forbid anonymity online, it would seem silly that we would still allow it in print and television media, so we might also lose anonymous sources sharing reliable information with the press or excellent authors who use pen names.
While I understand the dangers of of posting your real name in a format that is accessible globally, I wonder what you would say that would make you afraid. You can pick up a stalker walking into a grocery store or going to a bar just as easily as online. Right? Perhaps even more likely so.

Why would you collaborate on something you did not fully agree with? As for the smut issue, Smut might exist in the print media, but we control it with zoning laws. And not all smut sites require credit cards.

How do we allow anonymity in the print or television media? I cannot write a letter to the editor to my newspaper without including my name. So I am not sure what you mean by this?

I used to post anonymously, but I have changed and started using my name, I even created a blog and website with my name. It really changed the way I think when online. Knowing that anyone can read what I write, and that I am responsible for those words has made me think much more about what I say and how I say it. Which is a very good thing, in my opinion.
Although this is a persuasive argument, let's remember our First Amendment...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Amendment I, The Bill of Rights

There is no reason that people who are forced to identify themselves when using the Internet could have that identification used against them. In Panama, a country with a history of dictatorship, workers at a radio station shared that while they had "free" speech, their families--not only them--suffered oppression.

Redress of grievances in a hostile environment means that sometimes, you can't give your name for fear of retaliatory attacks. I'd like to think the Land of the Free has been liberated from those fears, but...the truth is people in power tend to behave consistently. Human nature?

The Internet is the new place to publish work. The author of the article you cite (Lev Grossman) isn't convincing. He would yield our hard won freedoms, the First Amendment no less, simply through citation of one example. It's not enough. Go on to many forums, and anonymous posters work to the benefit of the community. Were we to count, there are probably more "anonymous" posters contributing quality content than a few celebrity cases being bad anonymously. That's a research study in itself.

"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."
Source: EPIC Archive on Free Speech, http://www.epic.org/free_speech/
I am not advocating a forced registration of online posters, nor do I think is Lev Grossman. I think his point is that anonymous posting and use of the internet is and will do more harm than good. What would be wrong with a voluntary registration service that verifies you are an actual person? I think it would bring a level of professionalism and legitimacy that is missing on the web. Ten years ago I was told by a college professor not to do research online because most of it can't be verified. While there have been some improvements, there is still much misinformation on the web.

Thinking about our history, would Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel have been able to accomplish their work anonymously? Should our founding father's have signed the Declaration of Independence or sent it to England signed anonymous?

There is a time for anonymity, and it should be protected. But there is more power in identity.



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