Thursday, April 25, 2013

Anonymity, Morality, and the Internet

In my final paper I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the Internet and anonymity because I feel that the anonymity feature of the Internet greatly harms the public discourse on the Internet. Specifically I argue that anonymity further removes one from humanity and allows individuals to post things on the Internet that take the form of insults and hack generalizations, instead of efficient public discourse. I also argue that of the three main mediums of public discourse (books, television, and the Internet) the Internet is the furthest removed from humanity because it fosters anonymity.

So what does everybody think? What is the role of morality in public discourse? And, am I overreacting to this whole anonymity issue?


  1. It's no question to me that anonymity on the internet certainly makes it easier for people to become hostile and degrading towards one another. In my experience though, anonymity also prevents people from taking insults and attacks personally. At least this holds true on an individual basis, as It's difficult to levy a personal attack against someone when they are anonymous. Still, anonymity may open certain groups (based on gender, religion, ethnicity, etc) up to attacks they may not otherwise face. So in this way it may certainly cause some harm. With that said, I'm not sure that anonymity can be removed from many aspects of the internet at this point, at least not without heavy resistance.

  2. I definitely do not think you are overreacting!!! The internet is a scary place. Let's not forget that the internet has created, all on its own, the concept of cyberbullying, which is now a huge issue within society. The fact that anonymity of information has opened up a source of antagonism that sometimes causes people to kill themselves is no small issue.

    One thing I'd like to comment on about your post is that I don't know if anonymity has necessarily "allowed individuals to post things...that take on the form of insults and hack generalizations instead of efficient public discourse," but maybe more likely opened up a platform for the type of people who like to make those kinds of statements so that they are now able to. I doubt that those same people, if anonymity were not available, would post insightful studies into one thing or another or caring, uplifting comments. They probably would just say nothing at all. In this way, perhaps the internet has opened up the ability to participate in public discourse to a wider range of people, rather than to a wider range of subject matter. It's something to think about.

  3. I agree that anonymity removes people from humanity and could tempt them to do terrible things simply because they think it's funny. There are several examples of this from 4chan.

    However, I'm not willing to say that anonymity hinders public discourse on the Internet. To say so would be ignoring all the good things that have resulted from anonymous online collaboration. In fact, I would argue that anonymity is extremely beneficial to online public discourse. There are several examples of good things that have come from the anonymous culture of reddit.

    I'm definitely not saying that reddit is always awesome, but the potential is there (conversely, I'm not saying that 4chan is always "bad" either). It's important to understand the culture of a website to understand what its social norms are in regards to anonymity.

    Personally, there are things I would rather discuss anonymously than I would on Facebook. I actually find that I censor myself on Facebook more than any other forum simply because the community is very family-oriented. Facebook can could get you fired if you say something your employers don't agree with. I don't like this situation, but it's the truth.

    As with all things, you have to take the good with the bad. Yes, anonymity can lead to shenanigans, but that's not the only thing it leads to.

  4. In response to Anna's post about cyberbullying, I wouldn't say that the Internet has created cyberbullies. Thinking about it this way scapegoats the Internet and leads people to blame the technology, and I don't think this is where public discourse about this issue should be focused on.

    Rather, cyberbullies are just regular bullies who use the Internet. They're created through society and merely use the Internet as a tool to torment their victims.

    I think that cyberbullying says more about our culture than our technology. Public discourse should be focused on the culture that creates bullies.

    One of today's biggest issues is gay bashing. This has led to more than one suicide, and I know that people are not picking on gays because the Internet exists. So why are people being picked on for being gay? Why is calling something gay an insult? Why do we emphasize gender roles on kids the moment we are born?

    The more we ask these kinds of questions, the more we realize that some of our problems are society-based rather than technology-based. Technology is a tool; it's up to us how it should be used.

  5. I am writing about similar things in my essay, Derek. I definitely find that anonymity is a big factor of internet discourse.

    The way the internet is set up, people definitely have more boldness when engaging in conversations. If I was in a room with strangers having a conversation, I would be more inclined to keep my language respectful, while if in an online forum, I have more incentive to have at it.

    As Anna pointed out, this does extend to cyberbullies as well, though, as Ace said, the internet did not create bullies, it simply gave them another method to attack people.

    I think there are examples out there of effective collaboration between strangers that display some of the potential the internet has. And honestly, on message boards I have read and posted on, often times the antagonistic people are ignored.

    The internet's anonymity definitely provides a unique opportunity for public discourse, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to evolve and develop.

  6. Ace, thank you for the detailed post. I'm not very familiar with reddit so it was refreshing to learn about some of the good things that reddit and the Internet have created - I feel a little better about society now. However, I do want to bring up another point and I'd like to get more feedback from everyone. In my paper I also write about how the Internet encourages a more egotistical mindset and I think anonymity plays a role in this process, especially when people comment on online news stories. What does everybody else think? Are we a more egotistical society, and if so, what are implications?

  7. Go to any news website with a comment section. Anonymity plays huge role in what people say. You'll find those that hide behind a fake screen name will post just about anything. And I mean... anything. People who use their name or leave their information in a profile will generally post some what decent things. I believe anonymity plays a role in how much gumption you have to say either outlandish things, or just absolute malarkey.

    Ace sums up most of my 4chan and reddit references, and as someone who may or may not be on there longer than I care to answer, I concur.

  8. I think that online anonymity can have negative effects, I won't bother to cite any because many have already been listed. However I also think that anonymity can be beneficial. Anonymity allows individuals to stand up for their beliefs without fear of prosecution. Whistleblowers can expose corruption, and political movements can be started.

    For example, the Arab Spring would not have been as far flung without the use of social media, much of which was done anonymously. The internet allows for this kind of serious public discourse that does have important social implications.

  9. I totally agree. People say and do things they never would have on the internet because of anonymity. If it can't be associated with you then people don't care as much if they offend people. I absolutely believe it harms public discourse on the internet because people are not held at all accountable for what they say. I agree that it seems the most removed because on the internet you can be whoever you want to be the other forms don't really encourage that as much as the internet does. I am not saying, however, that everything is like this, but I do think that the harmful stuff is what you see more of.

  10. I really liked Amanda's comment on this post and agree that anonymity gives people a sense of security so they feel that they can freely express themselves about their opinions on topics of importance. However, while this does sound like a good thing anonymity also creates security for those who choose to use the internet in ways that are not beneficial to anyone.

    The topic of anonymity reminds me of the popular television, Catfish on MTV. Because the internet allows us to be anonymous it gives way for people to be able to create new identities completely and nobody would be the wiser. While I don't think most of these people who create new identities on the web from the show Catfish plan on harming anyone, this type of anonymity can result in large problems. The website and the idea of anonymity allows people to create new realities for themselves online through social media sites. This is both scary and fascinating in the way that the internet can be used for both lying and creating new people altogether.

  11. No, I don't think you are over reacting I think you make a good point. But my questions would be - how to we stop people from creating alternative identities when accessing a social media webpage. Also, how would we stop online bullying? The other side argues that if certain rules are enforced that would help stop bullying and hackers- anonymity etc. That certain rights would be taken away from the people. So I think it has to get to a point where it becomes extremely bad for the general public, for there to be a change.