Anorak News | Don’t Expose Your True Identity On The Web: Second Life

Don’t Expose Your True Identity On The Web: Second Life

by | 17th, July 2007

SHOULD you be made to say who you really are on the web? Dizzy says no:

I just don’t understand or get a recent trend towards this idea that everyone online should be identifiable and not allowed to be anonymous. Being anonymous, using pseudonyms or, as Internet sub-culture calls them, “alts” (as in alter-egos) is actually one of the great advantages of the Internet. In recent months the phrases “sock-puppet” has been used on a number of political blogs but it’s important right now to distance the idea of an alt and a sock-puppet. The latter concerns active deception with an express purpose. In the context of political blogs it has been used to imply that anonymous posters are in fact just the same person posting over and over again pretending to be someone else. Alts on the other hands are actually more complex.

Being anonymous online, or posting under a pseudonym allows users to explore parts of their personality and character that might otherwise leave hidden. They may be someone who has internal rage and seeks outlet in WRITING IN CAPITAL LETTERS. They could be a male who wants to be a female and wants to role play that life out. Second Life is the alter-ego born into graphics, it is a window into the psyche of the masses in some respect, because the avatar presented to you is what that person wants to be, and rarely what they actually are.

When it comes to words, and comments posted on political sites there seems to be two schools of thought. The first is the NetLibertarian school which states simply that the Net is a free place for individuals to express themselves without fear of repercussion. As such they can post as whoever they want if the features allows them too. The other school of thought is the NetAuthoritarian school which believes political communication on discussion forums or in some case personal websites should be identifiable, and usually argues that this is necessary based upon the assumed belief that if someone is being anonymous they must have something to hide.

Personally speaking I fall into the former position. The problem, and frankly, serious concern I have with the latter is that it ignores both the autonomy of the individual’s property and information, and equally disrespects their privacy. Thankfully the Internet, being the free network that it is, means that one can simply refuse to engage where a site demands information that the user does not want to provide. However, it still remains that a movement to shift the autonomy of the individual over their information towards an accepted model of identification is out there.

This it seems is becoming particularly the case when it comes to politics. The argument goes that if there are anonymous sites out there, they could be seen as being propaganda by failing to declare an interest. However, this argument is problematic because the “identify yourself” argument merely shifts the fallaciousness of the reasoning behind any critique. Say you have a site that is run anonymously and slags off the Tories. Most intelligent people would assume it is run by a Labour or Lib Dem supporter and the charge will be made that the site is a propaganda machine.

Let’s say that site then declares a political affiliation. Will the criticism on the site change? Not really. The assumed negative in the argument will simple shift to “you are being partisan”. Crucially, in both cases the reasoning is flawed because both positions are ad hominen attacks that ignore content and choose to dismiss on the basis of who is saying it. We are at that point – in effect – back to square one. At all times of course we’re assuming that the impact of the example website is actually significant, when often it probably isn’t.

What’s interesting to note here though is where the definition of a political site actually lies. I myself, for example, only actually joined the Tories a couple of years ago. However I’ve been pontificating and arguing about politics on websites for years. What happens when someone who’s just a voter wants to rant anonymously but can actually write and is popular? Is there to be an arbitrary trigger that says when a site goes from being “allowed to be anonymous” to “not being allowed to be anonymous”?

At the end of the day, the Internet biggest strength is its cathartic nature for people to explore parts of themselves that would otherwise go uncharted. For example, the strength and belief I have in my own political views came as a result of arguing online from positions that I fundamentally did not agree with. If the Internet is to be a free network it’s fundamental that people – if they choose – be able to run websites, post comments, or whatever in a totally anonymous manner. It’s worth noting as well that those that have called for greater exposure of identity in the online arena have also been vocal in their opposition to the introduction of ID cards in the offline world. That suggests an interesting contradiction about attitudes toward personal autonomy to say the least.

We shouldn’t forget though that it is autonomy over our information; and autonomy to disclose about ourselves when we choose too that is really at stake here. Some might consider it a freedom of speech issue but that would misplaced, its actually a freedom of control over our/your/my information issue.

Yours drinking beer on the beach,


Posted: 17th, July 2007 | In: Reviews Comment (1) | TrackBack | Permalink