Which is more dangerous online – anonymity, or a complete lack of anonymity?
2 experts have answered
I attended the EU Safer Internet Forum in Brussels last week. One of the constant issues of debate among the collected policy-makers, childcare professionals, and youth delegates was anonymity on the Internet, particularly after a keynote speech from Internet entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ‘elitist’ Andrew Keen. Keen argued in 2007 that anonymity was undermining the internet, and was going to be disastrous for our culture. In his speech last week he argued that we have now gone too far the other way and that ‘hypervisibility’, or the complete lack of anonymity, was even more dangerous, especially for children.
While his speech did not go down particularly well with many of the delegates, it did act as the starting pistol for a lively debate on the future of anonymity online.
One popular view at the forum, and elsewhere, was that anonymity has allowed bullies and negative influences to thrive online, and not just among children. That being able to hide your identity allows you to act without responsibility and consequences for your actions, and leads to a rise in cyberbullying, trolling, and children becoming involved in cybercrime. The Internet is increasingly moving in this direction, encouraged by social networks like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn who have made real online identities the norm.
However, it can be argued that anonymity is a vital tool in allowing young people to seek advice and to share experiences in a number of sensitive areas, including sexual and mental health. Advice they may be reluctant to seek if forced to use their real identity by websites. And let’s not forget that online anonymity helps to save lives in certain areas of the world, including those of some children.
Ultimately there is no such thing as complete anonymity or complete visibility, and children need to be encouraged to choose how visible they want to be online, and the consequences of their decision. Especially as we’re still a long way from any viable ‘right to be forgotten’ law.
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Personally, I strive for transparency. But I totally understand the need and benefits of the protective shield of anonymity. Both sides have their merit and downfalls.
So let us not forget that taking on both types simultaneously is also easy to do.
This sketchplanation illustrates one of the points well: http://24.media.tumblr.com/17cf7f74b807f2039fcbdc347c84d80f/tumblrmtwqw09OtW1su40qeo1400.jpg