There are a lot of reasons I stopped writing my last blog. Primarily though, it was because the Internet takes a lot out of you. It expects to be able to dissect everything. The Internet wants to pull you apart. Everything should be accessible and out there for all. In the Interneted world, you have to be always on.
I don’t particularly want to be always on. For starters, I am incredibly moody. Most people on the Internet seem like happy people or are on their way to being happy.
I am not happy. At least not today. Try again tomorrow?
Still, I soldiered on with my last blog until it petered to its end and took the last bits of me. And then after some distance and perspective, I started this new blog. I started showing up on Twitter. I logged onto Facebook more. But it’s even harder to be on the Internet than I remembered.
It’s exhausting. There hasn’t been a day when I didn’t crave the freedom of anonymity, if only to escape for a moment the pressure to be always right and available.
Not that I even hold anything back. I am not someone different in person. (Although how would you know, right? Or do you trust the identity I’ve put on the web?) What I write is what I experience. Perhaps a temper tantrum or two doesn’t make it in to a post, but well, now you know.
Point being, if I were anonymous, I would write the same things. But I think it would be easier.
There are a great many people, however, that cannot or do not express their opinions and thoughts and ideas so easily. Those people are forced into the category of degenerates on the web: trolls.
Many believe the trolls’ online anonymity “is a treatment of a symptom rather than a cure for the disease. The disease is a total lack of tolerance for the differing views of others in our society. The symptoms of our disease are things like racism, ostracization, unjust reprisal, stigmatization and persecution. [Anonymity] does nothing to address the root causes of these maladies. On the contrary, it gives people carte blanch to revel, indeed to roll around gleefully, in them. [Anonymity] allow people to be their worst selves, to perpetuate the cycle of hate, fear, and cowardice that has gripped western societies, without the need to face the consequences of their words and actions.”
That comment is fairly reflective of the values of the open web. Radical transparency is linked to the promise of a “more tolerant, peaceful and profitable digital world.” Besides, would trolls ever say the things they do if their real identities were attached to their comments? Probably not, goes the usual argument.
Online authenticity and transparency forces you to live a certain kind of life. First of all, it forces you to live at least part of your life online. For anyone on Facebook, it’s a large part. Add anytime that you log in with your real identity to buy a product on Amazon, or use Twitter, or blog, or sell something on Etsy and it’s an increasingly large part until you don’t have a distinction between public and private identity.
Not only does such transparency force you to live your life online in order to complete basic tasks on the Internet, but it also forces documentation, so you have to live a certain kind of life that can be documented. You have to be right. And good. Online, all the time.
Sure, this allows you to Google yourself and the guy you met at the bar Saturday night, but it also allows you to make judgements based on that data trail. At its best, when we follow our friends’ profiles around the Internet, it is little more than novelty and entertainment. At its worst, employers and potential lovers decide our fate in just a few clicks.
Either way, it’s not hugely beneficial to you.
Companies, on the other hand, retain a large benefit from your identity. They are the ones that want to collect your real identity so they can use that data to their advantage. Facebook’s crowning virtue is authenticity and it seeks to control the web by poo-pooing anonymity at all costs. Now Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and everyone else who wants you to login with their account follows you everywhere on the web and collects every bit of data it can about you. Mark Zuckerburg famously once told an interviewer that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” How very virtuous… and profitable.
What’s real authenticity anyway? Is there room for you to change your mind on the Internet? One anonymous commenter argues, “Having to log in or authenticate myself makes me less likely to leave a comment. Having to identify the comment back to myself in a traceable way makes it less likely as well. My mood or sentiment about a topic might change, but that post will be written in stone.”
4chan, a site where “roughly 90 percent of all messages on 4chan are posted under the site’s default identity, ‘Anonymous,’” is generally known as the scurds of the web. But “those messages are not only anonymous but ephemeral, because 4chan has no long-term archives: old message threads are automatically deleted when new ones need the room. This mechanism was originally meant to save storage costs, but as [its founder Chris Poole] notes, ‘it’s both practical and philosophical.’ Among other things, it challenges the idea that digital identity should follow you across time, linking what you say when you’re a teenager to the middle-aged business owner you might become.”
Novel, that. People actually change and grow? Say it ain’t so, Internet! Anonymity allows people a place on the Internet to be wrong, Poole says. That’s important because while trolls may not say their real opinions to you in person, they’re still thinking it. And when we take away the place to test those ideas, we take away any chance of tolerance for differing views.
So do you prefer to live in a world where people don’t speak their minds at any cost? Or do you want to allow anonymity? One is decidedly more virtuous.