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There's No Such Thing As Internet Anonymity
There's No Such Thing As Internet Anonymity
10/07/2011

Let me put things into perspective.  When I was a college professor, it was standard for students to fill out opinion surveys at the end of the course on what kind of job you did in the class.  Actually, when I was a student in college, we were asked to do the same thing and the opinions were anonymous.  Well, not in my case.  I always signed mine, because I felt if a crotchety, bitter student took out their failures, insecurities, and lack of effort on somebody who has an esteemed job and is earning a living and supporting a family, they ought to put down their name.  Otherwise, it presumes they expect something bad will happen if a teacher finds out.  That makes the teachers “bad” people and the students “good” people and I thought that was b.s. when I was a student.  So, I always signed mine, whether it was good or bad. 

When I got to be a college teacher, I gave that lecture.  If you are going to comment on me, good, bad or indifferent, you ought to stand up and be counted for your opinion.  Just like in a court, you have to face your accuser.  You shouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity and hurt somebody.  Most students never signed them.  They were brought up with cowardice and the feeling of entitlement that somehow an 18-year-old kid knows what constitutes quality teaching based on whether or not they could do the work. 

Then we had the internet.  I’m not saying the internet is evil, just like electricity is not evil even though you can stick your finger inside a socket and die.  That does not make electricity evil.  The internet is not evil, but it can be used in an evil way, and it has been.  The greatest number of sites in any one category is porn.  It’s probably the number one way pedophiles get to rape, molest and murder your children.  Children give out all kinds of information because they are naïve and curious and thrill seeking and don’t get it.  I would also say most parents do not tightly supervise their kids’ use of cell phones and the internet in general. 

So, the internet has become a very dangerous place.  People can create accounts using other people’s names, they can hack in, they can put up horrible things, humiliate and try to destroy somebody and they can do all of this anonymously and they are protected by Google or whomever because they have a rule “we can’t tell.”  This is infuriating.  I got into a minor tussle, myself personally, where a website that has interesting information on one of my hobbies, also has forum sites where people use pseudonyms and the site protects the pseudonyms.  I don’t think there should be pseudonyms.  I see no reason for people to be able to comment on anything, anonymously.  I had a long discussion about that to the person running the site.  He thought there would be a lot more activity and therefore, he would make a lot more money, if it was anonymous.  Ok, so he follows the money. What can I do?

The anonymity, in my opinion, allows the worst in people to come out, especially kids.  Think about all the horrible things kids do to each other on Facebook and MySpace which have caused some kids to kill themselves, yet they are protected.  The anonymity allows evil to really flow.  So, it was interesting recently when there was an article in the New York Times saying “Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone.”  The article says:

Not too long ago, theorists fretted the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived.

Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies.

Women who were online pen pals of former Representative Anthony D. Weiner similarly learned how quickly Internet users can sniff out all the details of a person’s online life. So did the men who set fire to cars and looted stores in the wake of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup defeat when they were identified, tagged by acquaintances online.

The collective intelligence of the Internet’s two billion users, and the digital fingerprints that so many users leave on Web sites, combine to make it more and more likely that every embarrassing video, every intimate photo, and every indelicate e-mail is attributed to its source, whether that source wants it to be or not.

I’m happy for  this erosion of anonymity which is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cellphone cameras, free photo and video Web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private. Experts say Web sites like Facebook, which require real identities and encourage the sharing of photographs and videos, have hastened this change.

People involved in riots also find themselves on the net.  If you do things in public in Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Syria, activists have sometimes succeeded in identifying victims of dictatorial violence through anonymously uploaded YouTube videos.

They have also succeeded in identifying fakes: In a widely publicized case recently, a blogger who claimed to be a Syrian-American lesbian and called herself “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was revealed to be an American man, Tom MacMaster.

The internet is getting to be less and less a place where bad guys can hide.  Should you be concerned?  Yes, a lot of you are innocently putting up a lot of information which gives the bad guys ways to get to you and yours, e.g., by signing up for dating sites.

I’m pretty careful, but still I get emailed all sorts of things.  For about a month, I was getting requests to sign up for senior dating sites. I must admit that ticked me off; I showed them to my husband and we couldn’t stop laughing because I said it was the “senior” part that ticked me off the most!
Tags: Internet-Media, Internet/Media
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