Thursday, 28 February 2013

Anonymity & The Internet

Anyone who browses the modern form of the world wide web, with its hyper-popular social media networking, linked-together business networks, and increasingly identity-driven entertainment content, comes to a point where a decision must be made: to 'sign in with Facebook'? Or to stay anonymous - or in many cases, to stay silent? This issue is not simply one which stays on the web: it has real-life consequences, too.

One proponent of the idea that anonymity online is not only an unnecessary feature of the web but is, in fact, a negative is Randi Zuckerberg, marketing director of one of the world's number one websites with over one billion member profiles and increasingly liberal privacy standards (regardless of whether the users tend to agree with those changes or not). She suggests a strong link between the anonymity of the internet and the prevalence of cyberbullying, and told Marie Claire magazine that online anonymity 'has to go away'. But is she right? Is online anonymity not only not an intrinsic right - but something which encourages

Perhaps even those who strongly agree with Zuckerberg's solution - that the end of anonymity is nigh and that's a good thing - would not go so far as to suggest that all of the problems of both the internet and 'real life' could be solved by removing anonymity: physical and verbal bullying is certainly not anonymous, and doesn't come with the option of 'blocking' the offender; racial and religious hate speech is encountered off-line as well as on-; and sexist comments on an online game are surely more easily ignored than harassment in person.

Randi Zuckerberg may be only one voice - albeit certainly an influential one - but she is not the only one calling for the end of online anonymity. Just this month, an Illinois Senator, Ira Silverstein, introduced and then called back 'the Internet Posting Removal Act', a bill specifically intended to remove the right to anonymous comment online. While this little-known bill would have obviously had at least some positive effect on such issues as cyberbullying, harassment, and cyberstalking, the potential for political censorship and other such uses is evidently too great and too obvious for this bill to have ever passed; at least in the current political climate of America.

Whether or not one chooses to 'sign in with Facebook' or use your full name on Twitter, everyone currently has the ability to choose. You are not forced to 'verify your ID' when signing up for Facebook - you are not asked for your home address while signing onto Tumblr - and you are not asked for anything more than your age when trying to watch a Youtube video - but those freedoms and rights of privacy are not necessarily a certainty, and wherever one stands on these smaller issues, one is taking part in the shaping of, and witnessing the metamorphosis of the changing face of the Net.

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