Sunday, September 30, 2012

Anonymity on the Internet

Anonymity. Some consider it one of the greatest parts of the Internet. You can say something and not worry about your boss, parents, or kids find out it was you; you can become anyone you want or don’t want to be; and you can practice one of the most frequently cited amendment to the United States Constitution  the first, which establishes free speech. Anonymous sites are often known for their raw, unfiltered material as a result of their anonymity, and the founder of the controversial uncensored online imageboard, 4chan, Christopher “moot” Poole talks about anonymity on his site at a TED talk at the TED2010 convention in February 2010 held in Long Beach, California.

Did anyone else notice Poole avoiding the bad side of 4chan? I certainly did.
He states at the 8:05 mark that he “get[s] emails; people say thank you for giving me this place, this outlet where I can come after work and be myself.” Why can’t these people be themselves without this anonymity? Society tells people not to conform, not to become what you think is ‘cool’ and to be yourself; therefore, if you need anonymity to “be yourself”, then what are you hiding?
He also states that saying anything is fine, but doing anything crosses a line. The problem with his statement is that people have done the things that they say on 4chan, which have resulted in horrible incidents. It’s been said multiple times that people have killed themselves after posting in 4chan’s /b/ forum, but one of the more infamous incidents is the Omaha Westroads mall shooting. Shooter Robert Hawkins posted in /b/ before shooting up the Von Maur store. Caution, the post uses some offensive language.

Link: Robert Hawkins' /b/ Post

I along with many people do not like the anonymity of the Internet. There really isn’t much good that can come out of it. (In fact, I had trouble writing my opening paragraph of this blog and coming up with pros to the anonymity.) Being anonymous on the Internet usually leads to two main things. Meanness, or as Dr. Roderick Hart would say: Jerkiness, and the inability to claim your statements. You may be questioning the latter, so I will establish that now.

Some people use anonymity because they are unsure or insecure about their statements. They may not necessarily be making a rude or hateful statement, but maybe they don’t want to be judged on an idea of theirs that may not be completely thought out. However, if many people agree with that idea, the person who originated it cannot claim it as their own. It will forever be accredited to “anonymous”. This may not sound extreme, so I will throw out an extreme example: how would you feel if you were the person to put out an idea for fixing the national debt under an anonymous name (because you weren’t sure how people would react), and the President saw your post and it worked? Wouldn’t you want credit for that?

My other possible outcome from an anonymous post is meanness. While this term sounds extremely childish, I feel that it is fitting. People get behind a different name (or no name at all) and feel very comfortable making rude, belittling comments. Whether that be dissing on Justin Bieber and his singing ability, or calling out an individual for their sexual orientation, it’s not productive.

Dr. Hart
Now, how does this all relate to politics? We asked Dr. Roderick Hart about his article “Community by Negation- An Agenda for Rhetorical Inquiry” in which he suggests that television fueled hate by putting a face to a cause. We asked how the Internet has changed this statement, and how the anonymity of the Internet has affected it. His response: anonymity is a powerful force with the ability to revert us all back to our 5th grade immaturity without having to own up to it. This is where the meanness comes into play. An anonymous user can say something about a political candidate, and they don’t have to prove that what they have said is true, and they don’t have to back up their statement. Instead they can just sit back and watch their (often false) statement negatively (or positively) affect that candidate.

Dr. Hart offers a simple solution to this growing problem: to simply require all posts on the Internet to have a picture of the person who said it along with their name and address. With Google+ and YouTube’s recent link, this suggestion is one step closer to becoming a reality. However, until all sites ban anonymity, the problems we’re facing today will still exist. Bottom line, live what your mother taught you: if you cant say something nice, don’t say anything at all…. Or at least include your name and address.

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