ANONYMITY, SOCIAL NETWORKS, AND FORUMS
Identity, or rather the concealing of one's identify, on the Internet remains as active a topic of conversation today as it was over a decade ago. However, in the mid- to late-1990s, it was fairly common for people to make up an on-line name that wouldn't be readily associated with oneself. That is, unless you wanted someone to know that "ninja666" was actually you. For years, nom-de-plumes afforded anyone the opportunity compose insightful and fatuous posts alike with little consequence save the occasional flame war. And as aggravating as it could be to not the know the source of a nasty missive, people stuck around in part because it was messy and anonymous. Often, no one really cared who you were in the outside world and the absence of that constraint allowed some to explore a voice they would otherwise stifle. Sure, that opened the door to all manner of lies and mischief but that was part of the deal.
Fast-forward to what is currently the most popular social networking site, Facebook. No one is anonymous. On the contrary, it's as if you spent your life dropping bread crumbs and the multiple trails converged in a profile. A profile populated with info about you and a list of your 'friends' — family members, BFFs, coworkers, school chums, acquaintances ( or "who?....oh yeah!" people), and complete strangers. You can make stuff up, but anyone on Facebook who knows you well will see through that so candor tends to be the order of the day.
Or does it? It's one thing to share interests, invite people to events, play a game, or even advocate for change on any social networking site. It's quite another to censor yourself since your real name is there for all to see. Certainly, there are souls out there who relish baring personal details with nary a concern for embarrassment, whether it be theirs or people they know. But for most, emotionally innocuous offerings tend to prevail. This is actually an odd but predictable state in a digital commons when everyone is readily identifiable. It also is a troubling one, pointing to a more cautious Internet culture we can expect in the years ahead.
The fact is anonymity is already all but gone from the Internet, as the recent court-ordered outing of blogger Rosemary Port illustrates. Some may celebrate this as perhaps an end to defamatory comments that can't be redressed, ushering in an age of greater civility online. Others will argue that in some countries, "accountability" means that once your identity is revealed, the consequences could be severe. Picking and choosing instances where we defend anonymity one moment and vilify it the next doesn't matter much now, though. The precedent has been set.
While this has little impact on the nature of social networking sites where your identity has been verified, it does go to the heart of what forums have supported for years — identity defined and cultivated by the user's participation. And it is precisely how participants develop their reputations on forums that give them a "name", an identity, that regular members of a group come to recognize, appreciate, and reference. Even with the loss of anonymity, forums retain their uniqueness as a collective where what you offer is more important than who you are.
Read more at: crowdgather.com/blog