Why I am anonymous on the Internet

Not that Anonymous. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably for one of two reasons. Reason one: you’re involved in the class this blog is produced for, in which case you followed a link beside my name to get here and thus know who I am. Reason two: you’re a friend of mine, in which case you followed a link I posted on Facebook and thus know who I am (and if you don’t, you’re a terrible, horrible friend and we need to have a talk).

And yet my name appears nowhere on this blog or the Twitter account linked with this blog or, outside of school stuff (which is locked to the public) and my Facebook (which is private), basically anywhere else on the Internet.

I’m a big believer in the value and benefits of anonymity online. This paragraph, from a post last summer by a quality Twitter follow, lists several:

[D]oes it provide any real net benefit to society if your boss can quickly and easily find all of the videos you’ve ever commented on on Youtube? What about if the oppressive religious parents of an LGBT teenager could effortlessly discover the sexual identity that their child felt obliged to hide just by typing their name into Google? Is our political system going to become any better if the generation of politicians who have grown up using the web were to have their entire online lives dragged through the mud if they run for office when they’re 40?

I mean, look at the headline of today’s big Ford family expose in the Globe and Mail. They dug up a bunch of dirt on the Fords from the 80s, long before the Internet. We’re all pretty stupid (shut up, we are) when we’re teenagers and maybe it’s for the best if not everything we do online is tagged with our real names for eternity.

However, it’s important to consider context in my choice to stay anonymous. My main contribution to the online world is via writing. Patricia Lange looks into YouTube users, a subset of the social media users who have to decide whether or not to put their face out there, not just their name. Her conclusion – that “people will likely continue to seek ways to carve out privacy in highly visible media environments” – is one that I feel sums up the way I behave on the Internet (though I do wonder how a generation that grows up with Facebook is going to treat privacy).

There’s another point in the Draglikepull article that warrants mentioning:

When you go to the grocery store the other shoppers know nothing about you aside from what you look like (and, if they’re nosy, what you’re buying). The cashier doesn’t know any more about you unless you hand them a credit card with your name on it. In fact, in this kind of interaction the “real life” people you’re interacting with very likely know less about you than the people in almost any online community you participate in anonymously.

If you live anywhere that isn’t an exceptionally small town, I’d suspect this is your normal, day-to-day experience. Anonymity is everywhere! Of course, not everyone thinks this is a good thing. Sherry Turkle, who once gave a TEDtalk called “Celebrating our life on the internet”, believes that our use of technology is responsible for us having “sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

If you’re anything like me, you read her op-ed and think a) she really needs to learn how to use technology better, and b) this mythical world where everyone talks to and knows everyone else just flat out doesn’t (and didn’t ever) exist. If I walked to the store right now and left everything at home, what are the odds I’m going to speak to a random person on the street? 100:1? 4000:1? I maintain my anonymity in “real life”, too. So why wouldn’t I extend it to the Internet?

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2 thoughts on “Why I am anonymous on the Internet

  1. Very interesting post, I think that the point you make about Ford in a key example. For media has always exposed the ‘dirt’ on political figures, and celebrities long before social media. There is no question that facebook has made information much more accessible, but none the less I feel that outlet has always been there. When it comes to the individual or ‘regular person’ I think that the concern for privacy and surveillance is much more of a scare than a actuality, we become paranoid by our own anonymity that we try to project something recognized as ‘safe’ or ‘normal’, to avoid the fear of offended someone, or ourselves when ultimately, our viewers don’t care!

  2. Pingback: SHEEP MOVIES | More on online privacy

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