October 20, 2008

Internet: Anonymity is the Veil of Malice

by Althea Avice de Guzman

One could argue that the internet is the most prolific medium and being thus, allows it to aggregate an immeasurable amount of information, while at the same time enabling access to everyone. Also, there are those who consider it the most decentralized system that exists, which means that freedom is virtually unrestricted. Such freedom is both a blessing and a curse because while yes it does foster growth, innovation and efficiency, there is always the opportunity to abuse freedom.

Web 2.0 arose from a growing sense of personalization within the internet. People now had a medium to project themselves — their personalities, interests and opinions to anyone and everyone who was willing to hear them. A prime example of this kind of social networking is Facebook, where one is given a template to personalize and share. In video sharing, YouTube allows for material ranging from "how-to-sew" tutorials to music videos to political statements. Also in existence are blogs, the soil of thought that allow for any opinion to take root and thrive. Blogs promote free speech with the option of anonymity, and yet with all of these trends that intend to foster creativity and collaboration, one must realize that as Peter Parker's uncle would say, "with great power must also come great responsibility."

Sites like Facebook and Myspace can victimize users as much as they connect them, with the intention of the user as the only determinant. YouTube videos can stream degrading material and blogs encourage anonymous free speech, where accountability is non-existent. Hence, the evolution of Gossip 2.0 should have been anticipated as a shoot off for this kind of freedom. Derived from Web 2.0, this kind of free speech is mostly patronizing and abusive to the point where even Google refuses to place support ads on the site. Why exactly is this the case?

Because anonymity is the veil of malice. While free speech is integral to democracy, an additional quality of anonymity permits harsh critique without fear of personal backlash. Is there a cost for such a freedom? Only to those victimized.

Hiding behind a computer screen, a person is no longer subject to the moral standards of society. He is thus bound only to his own ideals and with the results from this site, one may assume individual morality is fallible without the regulation of fear.

Epitomizing the effects of such a shield from accountability are the posts on juicycampus.com. Truly an overnight phenomenon at American University, the school was registered only two weeks ago and already has been the most active campus this month among 500 others. Threads on this site range from "biggest whore" to "hottest guys", using superlatives to describe people, or even starting threads with names and having them discussed.

The situation implies much about human nature: an inescapable sense of insecurity that can be overturned only by the degradation of others, an innate maliciousness suppressed only by societal demands, and ultimately the capacity of evil that can be reached without fear as a restraint.

So, while yes the internet has contributed to its share of miracles; it also has the capability to be used malevolently, like through cyber-terrorism (but that's another story). Think about it, what would you say if you knew there were no consequences? Fear is the true master of human nature. And anonymity on the internet with no accountability exacerbates the worst.

(Cartoon by London's Hugh MacLeod, the author of gapingvoid.com, used through a Creative Commons license.)

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