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Should We Eliminate Anonymity Online?

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Image courtesy of Google Images labeled for reuse

Image courtesy of Google Images labeled for reuse

Image courtesy of Google Images labeled for reuse

Andrew Jones, Staff Writer

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Anybody can post remarks on social media or in the comments sections of newspaper and magazine articles without giving their real name. This online anonymity has been under attack by those who say that it encourages misinformation, rude comments, stalking, and bullying. Others argue that requiring people to use their names in these instances would curtail free speech and eliminate an important forum for activists, victims of abuse, whistleblowers and others. So what should we do?

Well, it’s not easy to choose. But firstly, free speech never entitled people to anonymity. All it promises is the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship. But we don’t have truly free speech, either. Take slander, libel, obscenity, sedition, incitement, copyright, trade secrets, nondisclosure agreements, political correctness, perjury, or hate speech. These things do restrict our freedom of speech, in one way or another. What we really have is an “Offense Principal”, where people are allowed to have free speech with limitations on speech deemed offensive. Even in the article that promises free speech, Article 19, states, “ … that the exercise of these rights carries ‘special duties and responsibilities’ and may ‘therefore be subject to certain restrictions’ when necessary”. So, there’s nothing about free speech that protects anonymity — only what is said.

“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness”

 

Tiger Ashtiani, a student at LCHS, said, “If people knew all the mean things I’ve said online, I’d probably be in trouble”. We use the internet to learn, explore, and enjoy ourselves. But we also use it to speak freely without repercussion. After all, there’s a difference between a person you know looking at you and insulting you, and when “xXslayerXx420” does it over a forum. All you can do about it is ignore it and go on, or report the person to a forum admin. And then in a week or less, “xXslayOrXx421” can start insulting you. The presence of anonymity over the internet is severely abused. People are allowed to become someone else over the internet, and suddenly you don’t have to worry about someone recognizing you and holding you accountable for the things you’ve said. After all, you’re not really that person in real life — you and your online persona are totally different. So who should be accountable when they say something out of line? Right now, the best punishment we have is banning that particular persona from that particular site. But there’s no way to ban a person, and that person can just create a new alias and continue where they left off. If someone does something to wrong you, would you want them to get in trouble for it? If you were attacked in real life, wouldn’t you try to defend yourself or get back at the person attacking you? Shouldn’t we get rid of anonymity online, so that the jerks can be held accountable for all the things they’ve said and done?

But if you were being abused by someone, or doing something right despite getting in trouble for it, wouldn’t you want to be protected? Whistleblowers and abuse victims use forums and such media to get the truth out, to cut through the misinformation and reach an audience that needs to hear the facts — without becoming a target. This lack of accountability has saved lives, literally, by not giving a name and face to an angry source. When people will literally kill to keep someone quiet, the only safe choice is to become someone else, who can speak freely because they don’t really exist. Suddenly, it’s not some jerk being a jerk. It’s a poor innocent soul trying to call out for help without being heard by the person they’re trying to escape from. Accountability in a situation like this can and has ended lives. Can we really take away someone’s protection, just because it can accidentally protect the wrong people?

The problem here is Accountability. Do we hold everyone up to a light, unable to hide in any way, or do we allow a shroud to fall over everyone, so that no one can be seen? There is no middle ground to this. As Viktor Frankl, says in his book Man’s Searching for Meaning, he states that “Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness”, or in other words, freedom is meaningless if people don’t exercise their own responsibility to be good. It’s like the movie “The Purge”, where people are given total freedom to do anything, and immediately do the worst things possible. In the movie they wear masks to protect their identity, but really, we do the same thing with false names on the internet. So, what’s the right choice here? Taking it away doesn’t interfere with the freedom of speech, and then people can be held accountable for their actions. But if things remain the same, people are given more freedom to exercise good choices, and people who need to remain anonymous can.

Personally, I think things need to stay the same. Anonymity has been essential to making a change in the world since the beginning of time. From assassinations to coups to activists against a much bigger foe, this anonymity has changed the world. Taking it away wouldn’t change who those people are, just how easy it is to find them and take action, whether good or bad. The jerks just need to be ignored, because it’s the people who use the anonymity to change the world who need it the most. But maybe you disagree. Think about it.

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Should We Eliminate Anonymity Online?