Is Online Anonymity a Respectable Expectation, or an Escape from Accountability?

The push to discredit online anonymity has gained some traction since everyone and their grandmother jumped on the social media craze.   For us millennial old-timers who grew up loitering around–or, more aptly, dicking around–on BBS sites like TOTSE through the 90s and early 2000s, the idea of showing due deference to another’s online moniker is seen as an almost unbreachable right of the internet (in short, doxxing is the cardinal sin of the internet).

Nowadays, however, where our online activity is evermore linked in with the various areas of the internet we roam (both to facilitate personal comfort, as well as make it easier to be targeted by advertisers about our interests and potential purchasing preferences), the topic of online anonymity has morphed into a more shady issue for some.  The concept of trolling, which (for the two of you out there who don’t already know this overused term) is essentially trying to get a rise out of people online by leaving any comment that you believe will insult, demean, or hurt them.  For people who use the internet as a legit medium of communication, trolling is always used as a pejorative, and always frowned upon as a major downside (if not the downside) of the internet.

The argument for eliminating, or at the very least minimizing, the presence of anonymous contributors online can, I believe, be characterized most fairly as the following:

Don’t you think that if you wrote under your real name your opinions would be seen as more respectable? Some would say that by writing under a pseudonym you are afraid to attach your opinion to yourself as an individual, because you know that what you are posting online is either wrong, misleading, or outright malicious.

When I first started writing this blog I took a few moments to consider how much I wanted to reveal about myself to readers.  At first, I flirted with the idea of excluding any direct reference to my gender or nationality, but this seemed disingenuous on account that it denies the reader the opportunity to get an honest idea of the factors that shape my perceptions about my surroundings.  There is still a part of me that ultimately beliefs that if arguments and commentaries are to stand on their own, then the identity of the individual providing them should be irrelevant to the reader.  However, there is something to be said about building a rapport with one’s readers by trusting them enough to disclose something very personal with them (like one’s identity, even if on an impersonal medium, like a blog).

But an equally valued argument can be made about how pseudonyms allow an individual to feel safer about expressing her/his true opinions, free of the daily restraints s/he might feel inclined to adopt in real life.  When it comes to using online monikers, I consider this to be a very salient point, and would like to add that if someone is honestly willing to engage the points raised by a writer, then it shouldn’t matter under what name s/he chooses to go by in her/his cyber-life (after all, would not a rose by any other name smell just as sweet…).

But I understand that this can seem like a cop-out to some; a means by which to rationalize one’s unwillingness to cease hiding behind the relatively safe anonymity of the internet.  Nonetheless, despite understanding where this sentiment is coming from, it’s a point with which I will cordially have to disagree, as I think the reasons for a person’s decision to remain anonymous online are too varied to be so easily dismissed.  Also, even if the stated reason is the correct one, I don’t personally see anything inherently wrong with taking advantage of “the relatively safe anonymity of the internet” in and of itself, because in a world where so much of our online identity is so readily available for determined, potentially deranged individuals to found out life-threatening information about us for no other reason that some random opinion we shared online didn’t sit well with their delicate sensibilities, having a wall of separation in place between the person and her/his freedom of expression can be a valued tool of communication, rather a deterrent of it.

All the best,

Sasha

P.S. Yes, Sasha is my name.

P.S.S.  Yes, I am in fact male, and living with what is a predominantly female name in North America.  Very trendy of me, indeed.

“How you like them Apples…”

Privacy in the digital age often seems far more complicated than it ought to be.  If asked whether there exists a case in which one’s personal information should be shared or viewed by a third party or government agency, most people would respond with a resounding, “Hell no!”  And rightfully so.  However, it’s also common knowledge that if you have a profile up on any social network, or even if you just have a Google account through which you surf the web, your personal information and interests have been, and are currently, undoubtedly being shared with market parties you have no say in, all with such little protest from the public that most of us simply have come to accept it as an unavoidable fact of the technologies we depend on to get by in the modern world.  Thus, it is no surprise that there exists a side in the current fight between the Apple corporation and the FBI, which readily wishes to dismiss us worrywarts as being overly paranoid in the debate.  Because from their perspective, the idea that allowing the FBI to gain access to one phone, from one customer, connected to an act of terrorism is not equivalent to Big Brother moving in to depose of our civil liberties.  In this view, trading a bit of privacy for added security is a no-brainer.  If you haven’t caught on yet, I strongly disagree with this viewpoint.

Maybe it bears no need of repeating, but government agencies in the U.S. (and elsewhere) haven’t exactly had the best record when it comes to respecting their citizens’ right to privacy.  In fact, it is a callous mode of operation that continues to happen, again and again.  So, forgive us, brave protectors of our collective securities if we are not as optimistic about the prospect of allowing a precedent to be set on our privacy rights, to be potentially abused by institutions that have done nothing to earn our trust in their beneficence in upholding this area of the law.

Looking back I remember the indignation with which President Bush scolded those who of us who cared to raise objection to the warrantless wiretapping conducted by the NSA under his orders.  I also remember President Obama sternly rejecting calls of hypocrisy on his part when he allowed this same invasion of privacy and liberties to continue under his presidency when he had spent so much time campaigning against such abuses of executive power during his bid for the White House.  There is one thing, however, I agree with President Obama about when he was laughably trying to defend himself from critics (especially those who had once supported him) on the onset of the Edward Snowden leaks.  I remember the President mention that the conversation of choosing between privacy and security was an important one to have.  And this is absolute true!  Unfortunately, what the president does not–or will not–understand is that it is a conversation we ought to be having before such breaches of our liberties are undertaken.  Discussing it after the fact, and then dismissing our hostility at having our privacy violated as imbecilic, is insulting to our collective intelligence and undignifying, to say the least.

For those who say they are willing to grant institutions like the FBI access to their phones, if it means a possible increase in combating global terrorism and societal security, I wish you well with your optimism.  But do not dare speak on my behalf to implement your priorities into our laws.   And please don’t condescend to me as if you’re the levelheaded adult in this conversation, and we’re all a bunch of babbling infants, too stupid to understand the bigger picture you are wont of protecting.   Because I can see a bigger picture too, and it does not involve overreaching agencies suddenly learning the importance of restraint with next to unlimited power, when all notable evidence points to them never having learned it to begin with.