Anonymity on the Internet

Alan Duff

Twelve years ago the Internet was still full of odd experiments and could only be accessed from a clunky PC. Luckily, we are no longer in the Dark Ages of the Internet. We have become a society that has integrated our very identity into the Internet with websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Nobody will ever lack for conversation again.
Getting ready to go to work? Tweet it to all your followers on Twitter. Did your boyfriend just break up with you? Now you can quickly tell the whole world how you feel when you change your Facebook profile information to “single” and “looking for a relationship.”
Plus, with an iPhone, Droid or Blackberry that’ll fit into a pocket, you are connected when you want, where you want. All your friends can contact you whenever they need to; the Internet is always one small button press away.
But there’s a dark side to this new and socially enhanced, always-connected Internet. While your friends have never had an easier time finding you and talking with you, the same is true for total strangers. Whatever you post on the Internet is there forever, and it’s not just your friends who can see it.
According to CNN, in just the past few years, identity theft-related crime has increased as more and more online users provide their personal information in bios posted on Facebook, MySpace and even YouTube.
The mascot of the Pittsburgh Pirates was fired because his boss saw some negative comments the mascot said about his team on Facebook.
And robbing a house has never been easier, thanks to families eager to announce their three-week vacations to Florida. Or take Israel Hyman, for example, who runs a podcast. He tweeted all his followers the day he left on vacation only to find that when he came back everything expensive he had tweeted about had been stolen, but nothing else was missing.
This should be a warning to us all to be wary of just how much information we give away on the Internet.
Thankfully, for some websites the opposite is true. On the popular website 4chan, anonymity is a given and is celebrated. As thousands of users sign up for social networking sites, proclaiming who they are to the whole Internet, 4chan harkens back to when the Internet was a wilder, more anonymous place, where anyone could be anyone and you could act how you really wished.
With anonymity, users can only be judged by their actions, words and character and can avoid sexist and racist labeling.
While some users abuse anonymity for a chance to be vulgar, this is not always the case; 4chan’s anonymous community, for example, is known for punishing animal abuse. They saved Dusty the cat, whose owner Kenny Glenn posted multiple videos of cat abuse on YouTube.
Within 24 hours Glenn was tracked down by the 4chan community and reported to the local police. Dusty was saved.
The irony of Glenn’s anonymity being exposed by users of a website that revel in their own anonymity should not be lost. If Glenn had been able to keep himself anonymous he would not be facing jail time. Though anonymity is a wonderful freedom we enjoy, it does not exist for the purpose of evading the law.
“Moot,” the creator of 4chan and Time Magazine’s Most Influential Person of the Year for 2008, stated at the 2010 Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference that anonymity is one of the greatest strengths of the Internet and that users are giving it up by joining social networking sites.
Now maybe I’m the only one who gets scared when I walk into a room and see all its occupants surfing Facebook and Twitter with their phones and laptops, but I’d like to imagine that we can all celebrate our right to be anonymous and be a little bit more careful with what information we give away on the internet. The Internet certainly has changed – maybe a little too fast.