Anonymity and the Internet

5 03 2010

As more and more of our everyday activities move online, we need to be increasingly aware of our online actions. With instantaneous, worldwide communication at our fingertips, there is great power in the Internet. Our actions, videos, blogs, etc, all say something about who we are, and it is possible for someone to copy and paste a post, spread a video, or retweet a message. Depending on the content of the message, this has potential to help or hurt your online reputation.

We have recently talked about example after example of online reputation destruction. From “Dog Poop Girl” to “Star Wars Kid,” reputation can make or break you in the Internet age. But if everyone were too scared of the consequences to participate online, the Internet would fail to be as successful as it is, and social media would practically not exist.

The Internet provides a blanket of anonymity for users. They feel comfortable and protected behind the “Anonymous” tag above their comment. I have a personal theory that when people assume they are anonymous, they are inherently assholes. The idea of not being held responsible for your actions, suffering no consequences, creates a kind of power trip for users, which might result in people doing or saying things they normally wouldn’t in a face-to-face encounter.

But being mean isn’t illegal. There is no law that says we have to be nice to others. And in fact, there is a law that protects what we say… the First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech. This law protects gossip, rumors, or other negative comments from being taken down.

So where is the balance between freedom and speech, anonymity, and reputation?

Solove dropped the infamous Spider-man quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We, as participants of the Internet need to recognize that while we can say anything, it doesn’t mean that have to say it. We hope that everyone operates with the same strong moral compass.

But not everyone does run off the same moral compass. And since there is no real regulation, the responsibility falls once again in the user’s hands. Be cautious about what you make available online, who can see it, and how you handle similar situations.

If only the Internet ran on Karma.

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