Should the Internet Remain Anonymous?

Internet Safety

By The Online Mom

As a tech blogger, I am constantly on Facebook and Twitter. While both platforms allow me to keep up with the latest news, to network with friends and colleagues, and to crowd-source public opinion, they have their important differences. Twitter is more immediate, more fluid, and often more invigorating; while Facebook is more deliberate, more reflective, and often more personal.

Of course, one of the reasons for Facebook’s more considered approach is its lack of anonymity. Now that might seem a strange thing to say about a social network where everyone has 500+ friends, but even if you don’t know all of those friends well, you at least know their names. That’s because Facebook insists on a first and last name when you register, and a friending process that is intentionally measured.

Contrast this with Twitter, where real identities are optional and Twitter handles increasingly resemble code words rather than any form of identification. As a result, we amass thousands of Twitter followers but have no idea who most of them are. Tweets fly in all directions, with few rules and very little accountability. Although this can result in spam and other annoyances, it’s all part of Twitter’s charm and most people are more than willing to participate in the organized chaos.

I mention this contrast in styles because another icon of the Internet age, Google, is currently trying to persuade users of YouTube to start utilizing their real names instead of their often indecipherable usernames. Ostensibly, this is to cut down on the number of comment trolls, which has always been a big problem for YouTube, but it also makes commercial sense. A YouTube database that can be tied into real people – and potentially Gmail and Google+ accounts – has far more value to its advertisers than an amorphous collection of anonymous tags.

But Google’s move – and the success of Facebook – does raise the issue of whether it’s time to start clamping down on Internet anonymity in general and not just in a few specific areas. As the Internet increasingly gains acceptance as a serious news and entertainment platform, isn’t it time that its contributors and commentators were held to the same standards as traditional media outlets?

The example of YouTube is a good one. The administrators of the popular video sharing site take great pains to exclude video clips that are gratuitously shocking or sexually explicit but give far more leeway to coarse and insulting comments that are nearly always posted anonymously.

Why stipulate a certain standard for video contributions but have an anything-goes policy when it comes to comments? (Cynics would argue that the comments don’t carry ads!)

As the Web matures, expect to see less tolerance for anonymity and more of an insistence on ownership and accountability. Of course, any move towards more personal disclosure has to be accompanied by privacy safeguards. There is no point in promoting more openness just so advertisers can better track our online activities.

But at the end of the day, we should all be accountable for our words and our actions, whether online or off. It should no longer be acceptable to allow people to use the Internet as a platform for anonymous bigotry and intolerance.

Do you think the Internet should become less anonymous? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

The above article is reproduced from TheOnlineMom.com, a website dedicated to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation of the positive role technology can play in family life.