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Online Anonymity: Good or Bad?

Online Anonymity: Good or Bad?

Anonymity on the Internet provides an important layer of protection for people to express themselves online, while keeping their real life identity private.  It has led to both positive as well as negative implications over the years and there has been much discussion on the benefits and drawbacks on both sides.  On the positive front, people have been able to get involved with health and social support groups sharing information about themselves, which they may have not normally provided in real life situations.  Areas of political or social causes such as human rights, as well as more controversial issues are easier for people to engage in when they have protection through anonymity.  Throw away usernames with no concern for traceability allows people to make connections and get involved in discussion topics that they may not contribute to otherwise.  Schwartz (2012).

Anonymity has also provided a means for malicious activity carried out by those who would not do so if their real life identity was attached to their actions.  You only have to look YouTube as a prime example of nasty and over the top negative comments left by its users to the extent of virtual harassment.  ‘Some scholars believe that a key limitation of online text-based environments is a prevalence of anonymity which directly spawns antagonism.’  Lange (2007).  Google has tried to combat this by encouraging users to link their Google+ accounts to YouTube, directly removing a layer of anonymity.  Others argue that if anonymity was curbed, this would subsequently diminish cases of cyber-bullying and other forms of online harassment.  “I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. … People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors,” Randi Zuckerberg, formerly Facebook’s marketing director, said in 2011.  CBS (2011).

To some extent anonymity should not be able to be used in cases of abuse, nonsensical actions that cause harm to others, brought on by individuals who would never do so if their real name was made available.  On the other hand anonymity has been argued as one of the driving factors that make certain communities possible, because without some sort of protection, or layer of privacy, many people simply wouldn’t get involved in activities that contribute to great causes.  Whether or not we like it, anonymity on the Internet is here to stay, so we should find ways to embrace the benefits it brings and find ways to mitigate the negative aspects through better forms of accountability.  There will always be negative connotations to all new innovations and forms of communications and in the case of online anonymity; they simply do not outweigh the benefits it brings to those online communities that thrive on the safety of privacy.

References:

  1. CBS News.  (2011).  Facebook: “Anonymity on the Internet has to go away.”  Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-205_162-20087146.html
  2. Lange, P., G. (2007).  Commenting on Comments: Investigating Responses to Antagonism on YouTube.  Paper presented at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference.
  3. Schwartz, M., J. (2012).  Has Anonymous Ruined Online Anonymity.  Information Week.  Retrieved from http://www.informationweek.com/security/privacy/has-anonymous-ruined-online-anonymity/232901448?itc=edit_in_body_cross

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