Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Would You Blog If You Couldn't Be Anonymous?

I ask that question because Dr Dawg thinks internet anonymity should be busted.

And he's in good company. So does Facebook.

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.

And so does Google.

Now I understand where Dr Dawg and the others are coming from. I'm frequently appalled by some of the vicious garbage on the internet. Nobody should be able to defame someone or bully someone online. And get away with it.

But here's the thing eh? If you are defamed or bullied online you probably should use the legal system to punish those responsible. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, punishing all kinds of innocent people. And playing into the hand of Big Business and Big Government.

Because there are many, many, many, good reasons to remain anonymous.

And the marginalized and the oppressed of this world have the most to lose.

What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and Google are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously. Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name. Quite the opposite; many people are far LESS safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.

And there’s nothing acceptable about those who are most privileged and powerful telling those who aren’t that it’s OK for their safety to be undermined.

Now try to imagine what the internet would look like if the marginalized were excluded, and it was the musty preserve of privileged people. Yup. BOOOOOOORING. 

As for me... I'm not really anonymous, people know my first name, where I live, and I use my full name on other internet sites. But when I started blogging I decided to do so anonymously because I was afraid that some crazy homophobe might turn up on my doorstep, with a Bible ....or a GUN.

And sure enough one did try to track me down, and had to be caught and punished hospitalized. Which was scary enough. And I don't have to worry about losing my job, or being arrested and tortured by some murderous regime. Unlike so many others. 

Although I do worry that Big Business wants to know more about you than even your closest friends.

The kind of naming policy that Facebook and Google Plus have is actually a radical departure from the way identity and speech interact in the real world. They attach identity more strongly to every act of online speech than almost any real world situation does.

So they can sell you stuff.

And what I think is even more alarming is that Big Government wants to blow up anonymity as well. Because they have seen how the internet can be used to organize protests and Arab Springs. How it can make the youth move as one. So they're cracking down EVERYWHERE.

In Britain.

As in Canada.

Because let there be absolutely no doubt, if the Harper Cons allow the police to search computers without a proper warrant, it will be the beginning of the end of internet freedom in Canada. Police will use their new powers to the max. Who can blame them eh? And they WILL be abused.

The writing is on the wall all over the world.

As in if we don't stop them, a wall, in a dark and secluded place, will be the only place you will be able to publish your opinions and remain anonymous....

Yup. When Big Business, Big Government  AND Dr Dawg want to bust anonymity, the writing really is on the wall.

But at least the good doctor has started a conversation that we all need to have. Before it's too late.

Would you blog, or write comments, if you couldn't be anonymous? Think about it.

Internet freedom baby.

Fight for it or lose it....


  1. Hear hear.
    Couldn't agree more, Simon.

  2. Agree too, Simon.

    No. I wouldn't blog if I had to use my real name. Among other things, I write about women's rights, especially as measured by abortion access. And we know what can happen to abortion advocates.

  3. I've been anonymous since before there was a WWW on the Internet. It has been very useful, very effective, and often allowed me to say things that needed saying which could have now come back to haunt me. The less anonymity I have the more tempered, and simply less effective, my words are. I have to think more of the consequences after all, particularly the petty ones

    Those in a position of power or privilege will continue to say the same "nasty comments" that some few anonymous commentators do. They will not be censored when anonymity is removed from the Internet.

    As you point out, there are PLENTY of legal angles to prevent hate, bullying and so on. Perhaps we need more, but sometimes we also need a heckler in the crowd who no one can identify just to say what needs to be said.

    PeterC, the semi-anonymous.

  4. The whole "real name" thing is so ridiculous since you can't prove that anyone is using their actual real name. They might be posting under something that looks like a real name, but short of asking them to fax you a copy of their passport or driver's license, for all you know it could be the name of one of their favourite characters in a novel or TV show. Or their next door neighbour. Or completely made up.

    In the past, I used to participate regularly in politics discussion forums at Delphiforums and some of the meanest, rudest posters used "real names", not pseudonyms. The suggestion that using a "real name" will make people more polite online doesn't hold water.

    I blog using a pseudonym because blogging is a bit of a grey area for me re: my work contract. I've used the same pseudonym for close to 10 years now and it has become my "real name" online. It has more online cred than my actual real name ever would. In fact, if I wanted to post something really nasty online, I wouldn't use my blogging pseudonym, I'd probably make up a fake "real name".

  5. Well, the government probably knows who we are already, but yeah, employers can punish you for free speech.

    Psychos you "debate" with can track you down and harass and/or kill you.

    If you use your anonymity to bully and slander you should be outed.

    I don't think I do that.

  6. Simon, you've articulated something I've been thinking since Dawg's post but could not put into a cohesive thought. This is not a black and white issue and discussion is definitely needed. Thanks.

  7. A well-articulated piece, to which I've linked, but it really argues against a position I didn't take. Briefly, I am saying that anonymity is not a "right," and that it should not be permitted as a shield for those who defame, harass or threaten.

    That doesn't mean a clean sweep of anonymity, though. Plenty of good reasons for the latter--role-playing, as well as the other examples you list--but it does mean that if you cross the line, you can be found, named and served.

  8. I agree. Good post.

  9. Quite honestly, I nearly had a heart attack when I saw Dawg's post. I'm a brand new blogger there, and I'm quite attached to being anonymous. :)

    I'm Christian and left-wing. I piss off right-wing Christian nutjobs regularly. And you know how stable they are!

  10. Anonymous1:46 PM

    The radical success of the Internet was a huge surprise to those in power. As an example, look at how Microsoft totally dropped the ball in the early days. If a company of computer people completely missed it, then what chances did intelligence agencies and their bosses in government have?

    Now they're trying to gain ever more control over the Internet and claw back whatever global freedoms it provides. Since projects like BitTorrent and Tor, increasing amounts of work and research have been done on distributed & non-centralized systems on the Internet. They need to take away anonymity, and make it seem normal to lack anonymity before they lose their last centralized levers of control: mainly DNS, CAs for HTTPS, and the ability to trivially wiretap unencrypted communications as encryption is used more and more.

  11. hi JJ...I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks, but it being summer, and me being lazy, I kept putting it off. So I'm glad Dawg's headline got me off my ass... :)

  12. hi Fern... Yup. As the post I linked too pointed out, women are probably the most vulnerable for all kinds of reasons. And when you battle the anti-choice fanatics are excellently as you do, you should not take any chances...

  13. hi PeterC...I agree with everything you say my fellow semi-anonymous. ;)
    The internet does have some dark denizens, but it also gives voice to freedom, which by its very nature tends to be boisterous.
    Also, as you point out, it's not only the anonymous who are responsible who foul the net.
    And as I would point out, those kind of anonymous characters are also the kind most likely to find some way to get around any ban on anonymity, while billions of decent people would be forcibly silenced...

  14. hi Radical Centrist... I agree with most of what you say. I'm sure that even though they are developing name verification technology it will probably always be possible to operate under a fake name.
    But just trying to impose a ban would have a chilling effect on the blogosphere, and I'm quite sure many many good people would be driven from it altogether.
    And of course, allowing police to search people's computers without a warrant, is definitely a slippery slope...

  15. hi Thwap...thanks for summing up my post in a shorter and punchier way. ;)
    Because we do really need to get the message out. Internet freedom is under assault, and we need to defend it...

  16. hi Jym...yes it is a complex issue, and that's why we urgently need to explain to people what's at stake. And why we absolutely have to stop the Cons from rushing their Big Brother plans through Parliament as part of their ghastly crime bill.
    We need to unbundle it from that foul package, and give the issue a proper hearing...

  17. hi Kim... Thanks. I have collected a lot of material on the debate raging out there, and hope to do more posts on it soon...

  18. hi Luna...yeah, I almost had a heart attack too. ;)
    But I'm grateful to Dr Dawg for at least starting what I hope will be a good debate.
    And yes, unfortunately I do know what right-wing Christians are capable of saying and doing. However, I don't consider them real Christians, and I LOVE left-wing Christians. So welcome to the blogosphere !!!!! :)

  19. hi Dr Dawg... I don't question your motives, and as I said in my post, I am grateful to you for provoking me to action. ;)
    But I also note that there is a raging debate out there, some powerful interests really are trying to throw out the baby with the bath water, and we must be careful not to encourage them...

  20. hi anonymous...yes, that's the bigger and darker picture that really worries me. It surely can be no coincidence that since people started using social media to organize protests, the assaults on internet freedom have escalated exponentially.
    I was extremely amused to note that when David Cameron and his Cons began braying about a ban on social media, they received high praise....from the Chinese government.
    As I said, the writing is on the wall..