Online Anonymity: Maybe a Less Than Stellar Idea

July 20, 2021

On one hand, there is a veritable industrial revolution in identifying, tracking, and pinpointing online users. On the other hand, there is the confection of online anonymity. The idea is that by obfuscation, using a fake name, or hijacking an account set up for one’s 75 year old spinster aunt — a person can be anonymous. And what fun some can have when their online actions are obfuscated either by cleverness, Tor cartwheels, and more sophisticated methods using free email and “trial” cloud accounts. I am not a big fan of online anonymity for three reasons:

  1. Online makes it easy for a person to listen to one’s internal demons’ chatter and do incredibly inappropriate things. Anonymity and online, in my opinion, are a bit like reverting to 11 year old thinking often with an adult’s suppressed perceptions and assumptions about what’s okay and what’s not okay.
  2. Having a verified identity linked to an online action imposes social constraints. The method may not be the same as a small town watching the actions of frisky teens and intervening or telling a parent at the grocery that their progeny was making life tough for the small kid with glasses who was studying Lepidoptera.
  3. Individuals doing inappropriate things are often exposed, discovered, or revealed by friends, spouses angry about a failure to take out the garbage, or a small investigative team trying to figure out who spray painted the doors of a religious institution.

When I read “Abolishing Online Anonymity Won’t Tackle the Underlying Problems of Racist Abuse.” I agree. The write up states:

There is an argument that by forcing people to reveal themselves publicly, or giving the platforms access to their identities, they will be “held accountable” for what they write and say on the internet. Though the intentions behind this are understandable, I believe that ID verification proposals are shortsighted. They will give more power to tech companies who already don’t do enough to enforce their existing community guidelines to protect vulnerable users, and, crucially, do little to address the underlying issues that render racial harassment and abuse so ubiquitous.

The observation is on the money.

I would push back a little. Limiting online use to those who verify their identity may curtail some of the crazier behaviors online. At this time, fractious behavior is the norm. Continuous division of cultural norms, common courtesies, and routine interactions destroys.

My thought is that changing the anonymity to real identity might curtail some of the behavior online systems enable.

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2021


One Response to “Online Anonymity: Maybe a Less Than Stellar Idea”

  1. Alan Donelson on July 20th, 2021 12:07 pm

    Speaking only for myself, I have grown to prefer taking full individual responsibility for what I post on-line. For many years I’ve doubted that any means or machinations to attain and to maintain complete, impenetrable “anonymity” by members of the great unwashed — especially those both unabashed and unquashed! — would fail eventually, only appearing to “work” until sounders [sic, see of Thought Police or VAX Squad show up to take one away. Sounder reasoning, I submit.

    So, as I do here, I post only under my given name, however purloined, misrepresented, and capitalized it may be (cf. Anna Von Reitz).

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