Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

The Reports of the Anonymous Internet’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

It seems pretty clear that allowing people to behave with anonymity on the Internet yields some horribly unethical behavior. But the idea that this kind of behavior will ever end on both the Internet and the Web seems naive. As Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”—it isn’t just reports on the Internet that get it wrong, it’s a facet of human communication. Why? Because despite what some folks (with a vested interest) say about unethical behavior, the Internet is not the World Wide Web and the World Wide Web is not the “World Wide West.” Sites on the Web are owned and managed by people who have vested interests in the site’s use and perception. Sites (admirably) like Facebook or Slashdot, are interested in making sure that good commentary gets seen and that garbage goes down the filter. Not all sites are interested in that sort of accountability and for good reason. While it’s true that anonymity can create unethical behavior, the flip-side of the existence of anonymity is that it can spark notorious forms of brilliant creativity and political descent. People who argue that we need total safety on the Web don’t entirely understand the benefit of those great works of the anonymous. We are not a consensus—and by we I mean everyone on planet Earth. The majority, at least in the US, and according to the Federalist Papers, do not get to tell the minority to be quiet or take a back seat1. The world needs to be as civil as it can, but in the end, there is reason for the oxymoron “civil unrest.” And you better bet that matters. Civil unrest is best fomented with some notion of anonymity. The long and the short of it, though, is that you can tell the kids to get out of your yard. It’s your site—manage the freedom of speech as you see fit. But don’t think you have any amount of control over the Internet. You don’t even know all the protocols.

  1. It is awesome to me that all I had to do to find this link was type the phrase “front bus seat” and Rosa Parks Wikipedia entry was number one! Believe in that, fellow protesters! 

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