View Full Version : Anonymity

November 8th, 2011, 11:08 AM
Can people handle anonymity?

I thought of this thread when I was thinking earlier "I wonder what a section of PC would be like if every post was anonymous?" Then I realized if I even suggested that, most people would dismiss it because anonymity to most is just a way to be rude to people with no consequences; then I realized this might be a good topic to discuss here. Can people handle anonymity?

On the one hand there's 4chan (or certain areas of it), which is of course a hotbed of racism, sexism, homophobia, and general hatred. If you read the posts you would assume that every person on the site is lewd and crude in reality, and would avoid anyone who associates themselves with that website. However, if you ever talk to them, most of these people in real life are perfectly reasonable human beings. This leads to the conclusion that the difference here is anonymity, the idea that there's no repercussions for the terrible things that are said, which they can't say anywhere else.

On the other hand, anonymity also allows for complete honesty in more mature internet posters. I've personally seen a situation where someone sent a post comment to a friend disagreeing with what the friend said in a way that was rather rude. The friend later got modded, and was able to go back and see that the person who sent them the post comment was actually a good friend of theirs. The veil of anonymity offered from the post comment system gave that friend the courage to honestly say what he felt about the post, without fear of possibly losing the friendship he already had.

So does anonymity mostly tend towards the good, or the bad? And also, just for my own curiosity, what do you think PC would be like with anonymity? Better? Worse? Would people try to make themselves known by signing their posts, doing other things to differentiate themselves, therefore defeating the purpose?

November 8th, 2011, 11:45 AM
I was thinking about this topic earlier after reading an article on the hatred and threats that women bloggers receive. [linky! (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/helen-lewis-hasteley/2011/11/comments-rape-abuse-women)] Needless to say, there are some awful people on the internet and anonymity plays a big part in it. We know from studies (and our own experiences) that people act differently when they think no one is looking, or when they're in a large group so it's not really a surprise.

I can see the positive side to anonymity... when there is some kind of structure in place. Like voting. Only complete strangers know who you voted for (or no one at all if it's electronic) and they aren't allowed to share this information. You get the benefit of anonymity there, the ability to be honest and free from coercion. Then you have instances like riots where people let the whole mob mentality seduce them into doing things they might not normally do. Anonymity is a temptation. Some people are more tempted than others and some give in. If there's nothing contrasting that, nothing telling a person why they shouldn't act out they've no reason not to and any small reason to misbehave might be enough to make them do that. People who vote generally don't act out because they care about the results and people who riot generally don't care whose building they destroy because they feel no connection to other people.

So... complete anonymity without something to make people want to behave or forces them to behave is bad.

If PC had some kind of anonymous system in place I would expect that everyone who feels connected to PC and wants to see it stay a safe place would behave normally, but you would get more trolls and maybe more new members who don't necessarily feel any connection to the success or failure of PC and might not care how they act. I suspect that members who would care more about PC would be more vocal and would confront or otherwise out-voice the trolls, but it would be a numbers game. Too many trolls and/or not enough people caring and PC would sink. Anonymity can be bad for even good-intentioned people because there isn't necessarily recognition for being good and though they probably won't slip into trolling just for lack of recognition, they might become more likely to be just bystanders.

Personally, I would do something to distinguish myself like signing posts if we had a system like that.

PkMnTrainer Yellow
November 9th, 2011, 10:48 AM
We /have/ anonymity here. Just not 100% anonymity. Too much of /anything/ is a bad thing. Not even 4chan is 100% anonymous. (Because it's moderated.)

Here at PC, we have anonymity in the form of being able to have the rest of our lives (or internet lives) separate from PC. We have anonymity in that we cannot be held responsible for our actions beyond being banned. 4chan has additional anonymity in that your entire history on the site doesn't last long unless you force it to via posting additional details.

Anonymity is very important, and a good thing to have, though I believe that 4chan's flavor of it is too much. PC has the perfect level of anonymity, I personally think. Anonymity is only part of what makes humans act like... y'know, creeps. The other part is a hilariously juvenile phenomenon known as rebellion. Humans /love/ to rebel. They love to do the forbidden. They love to corrupt. It's a dark side of humanity that has grown stronger in recent times for a reason unknown to me.

Shining Raichu
November 10th, 2011, 3:06 AM
I disagree with PkMnTrainer Yellow. While I accept the premise that we do have anonymity here in that we can turn off our computer and live our lives as though no time spent here matters, I don't think the anonymity is to as great an extent as she would have us believe.

Every post we make here contributes to our "brand", for want of a better term. People can see who we are from what we say, the way we speak and how well we play with others. This brand is significant of who we are as a person both online and offline, and if we wish to continue being part of this community it is we - speaking through the persona (or perception of ourselves) that we have created - have to take responsibility for and deal with the things we say, just as you would if you wish to continue being part of any community offline.

So, while it may be true that the Internet grants us a certain separation, I wouldn't necessarily call this anonymity. At least not in a community environment such as this. 4chan etc are probably different, of course.

As to how well people handle anonymity, I agree with the OP in that people do use it to lose the personal censors and speak their bigotted minds. An interesting study of this is post comments. While it is more the exception than the rule, people use post comments to say nasty things to other people because they know that the person they are targetting will have no way to know who sent the message. People feel more free to do as they'd please when the repercussions are removed. It is a shame because I'd like to think that people would be considerate of others' feelings with or without consequences, though experience has taught me that this is probably a lot to ask of any society.

As much as I believe in the PC memberbase, I think it would be far worse with anonymity. This is because if things were totally anonymous, I'm not even sure I'd even trust myself to remain true to the morals I've spouted over the past paragraph. People get angry at what others say and feel the need to respond in a mean-spirited manner, and I'm sure that faced with that situation I would be no different.

November 10th, 2011, 2:34 PM
I've seen places where anonymity is awesome and excellent (Livejournal writing memes <3 people are so amazing there) and other places where I think it's absolutely terrible! (lol 4chan?)
It's kind of a double-edged sword. At least with anonymity you wouldn't have all that.. all too cliquey on here. On the downside perhaps there'd be more outlandish behaviour.

November 11th, 2011, 12:32 PM
I enjoy posting on my anonymous-flavored image boards, thanks. And those boards were definitely better when everyone was forced to be anonymous on them (no tripcodes or names). I think internet anonymity is universally a good thing. People get too concerned with reputations and stuff, I think it can be good to get an environment where people can express an uncommon opinion without the fear of it wrecking their life or their online "persona" or whatever.

I think moderation is a separate issue. Site administrators need to be able to uniquely identify users who spam. The point is that nobody else should be able to differentiate. Though I suppose don't mind users in a single thread being uniquely identified for that specific thread. That was what tripcodes were supposed to be for, anyway.

Critics of internet anonymity say that it allows people to be complete tools. Really? And people aren't tools without anonymity? The accepted level of douchebaggery varies by administration and has nothing to do with anonymity. You can have a completely anonymous site (at least from a user's perspective) where people still get banned if they're jerks. Likewise, you can have a forum full of angsty teens yelling at each other even if their real names are tied to their accounts (this is pretty much what high school is).

I think the great thing about anonymity is that it allows people to offer opinions that go against the mainstream without fear of significant backlash. It's the same reason why I think freedom of expression is important; even if you disagree with someone's opinion, different perspectives can offer valuable insights about a particular topic.

November 11th, 2011, 5:01 PM
Well like Kura said, I think it's a double-edged sword. I think it's good to have anonymity, and agree with the points made by Twocows here, but I do think that it can also be abused, and cross the line of 'freedom of speech' to the point where there is no sense of common decency anymore, which should also be taken into consideration, even if you are anonymous.

Shining Raichu
November 12th, 2011, 3:57 PM
I think the great thing about anonymity is that it allows people to offer opinions that go against the mainstream without fear of significant backlash. It's the same reason why I think freedom of expression is important; even if you disagree with someone's opinion, different perspectives can offer valuable insights about a particular topic.

I have to question how much value any opinion has if it's impossible to identify the voice behind it.

November 13th, 2011, 9:00 AM
I have to question how much value any opinion has if it's impossible to identify the voice behind it.
Are you kidding? What about the repressed masses in a dictatorship, fearing for their lives? Are their opinions not worth something? What about those few whose opinions would put their reputation at risk due to an overzealous society? Are their opinions not worth something? What about the reformed man who has paid his debt to society and emerged a changed man? Is his opinion worth nothing, too?

What about the soft-spoken minority, constantly being drowned out in shouting matches? What about those who are afraid of public interaction, who go into a nervous breakdown when people talk to them? What about the cynic, who believes strongly in his ideals but thinks nobody wants to listen? Should we ignore their voices, as well?

These are folk who, for various reasons, would benefit from being able to voice themselves behind the wall of anonymity. Are their opinions less valid because they have a reason to hide their identity? Surely not.

I have met all sorts on various anonymous outlets. I once read the story of a kid who ran away from home, became a homeless vagrant, met a social worker, moved in with her, got married to her, and eventually became self-sustaining. I've had question-and-answer sessions with people claiming to be politicians, where they talk about the deplorable follow-the-leader state of the political system. I even talked to a soon-to-be whistleblower once, who told me a great deal of corrupt corporate practices that never make it to the public. Do these people not have something important to contribute?

And I can't tell you the number of unfortunate youths I've talked to who were suicidal, who thought the only people who would listen were strangers on an anonymous imageboard. It's been more than a couple dozen, at least. Even more shocking (to those who haven't seen it before) is the typical reaction: most people honestly don't care. I don't think it's that those people are the exception, either; these aren't isolated opinions. This is honestly the feeling of much of society toward those who suffer depression or isolation. So many undermine their struggle, calling it nonsense, that they get pushed to that state. Only when they bring the knife to their throat does anyone pretend to care. These unfortunates, are their stories worthless as well?

Of course, there is no way to verify any of the stories I've seen, and much of it is probably fictional. However, I don't think even that makes it any less valuable. While the content itself may be untrue, it's getting at something more important. People are allowed to be completely truthful while anonymous. We can learn what people really think about things. And a lot of times, it isn't pretty. But it's something we need to know. We need to hear more than just the old guy shouting down the town hall; we need to hear more than pundits telling us what we want to hear. We need to know what the people really, truly think, or we'll never start questioning the system as it stands.

As a postscript, I've met so many different types through anonymous venues. It forces you to think about a great many issues you may have never given a second thought. For pretty much any given issue, there's someone, somewhere, whose life is affected by it more than you can imagine. And the people at these venues, sometimes the only friends they have are a bunch of strangers. And it's not because they're bad people. They're just not the picture of the ideal man that's been pressed on us. They're still people; they have plenty of insights on their own. And what's more, they're still capable of great acts of kindness. For all of the insensitive, callous acts I mentioned, I've seen just as many moments of fraternity and compassion. And I guess that's why when someone says their opinions are worthless because they're anonymous, I get a bit upset.

Shining Raichu
November 18th, 2011, 6:21 AM
Holy crap on a cracker, Batman, this just got real.

I do receive your point well, however I was under the impression that we were discussing online forums, not the larger fabric of life. The things you've talked about are way deeper and more dramatic than anything I was referencing or what I thought the thread was about lol. All I meant was that I'm less likely to value an opinion if I don't know whose opinion it is. Without knowing who the person is or anything about them that would lead them to hold that opinion, it doesn't carry much weight for me.

Avori Adonis
November 18th, 2011, 6:41 AM
I feel really uncomfortable about all the information I've put out there over the years. I'm sure if you've followed my internet career from the first point of logging on up until now, there's information on every single part of my life out there (excluding my social security number) somewhere. I want my anonymity back.

I think we all have somewhat of an anonymity around here. Usernames provide that, along with giving a sense of being to who said what and what they said. We have no idea who or what people behind the usernames are or what they do in life until they choose to reveal it to us, after all. That's what I think of when I think of anonymity online.

Sure, you can get technical and start going into IP addresses being logged and everything like that, but that'll kill all the fun of the discussion immediately.

I don't think anonymity promotes anything. Yeah, you're going to get a lot of hateful comments from people who think they're big and bad being behind a computer screen, saying anything they choose, but there are hateful comments said by people all over the world, whether they're anonymous or not anyway. It's just easier to notice online because it's available at a moment's notice, where-as you'd have to know the person offline (or have some form of contact with them).

It really just depends on the person. If they're a good person, they aren't going to use their anonymity for anything bad. The worst they'd probably do is troll in a haggling sort of way for laughs, rather than trying to hurt people, and that may only last until they are satisfied. If they're a hateful person, they're going to use that anonymity for hateful things. I like to think of the good in people individually more so than the bad (where-as, as a human race, I define us mostly based on the bad). But for things like this, I see it on a person-to-person basis.

Gold warehouse
November 18th, 2011, 7:28 AM
I'mma take your example of 4chan...

This side of 4chan, the side that portrays it as something terrible, is only the surface of the site.

It's the flip side of the coin of what people are like on any other website; like PC for example. The majority of the time people won't always fully act themselves, they know they're being watched and scrutinized all the time so people choose their words carefully. You won't get people making homophobic, racist or any other kind of controversial jokes here because they'll be jumped on immediately, whether they actually mean what they say or not.

Whereas on 4chan it's the only place they can make those jokes, talk crap and say whatever they like, so they do. It doesn't mean they actually mean it; the majority of 4chan users are actually very liberal and tolerant once you stay there for a while, look at a few of the different boards, and notice it's not all about /b/. I'm a regular user and the hate comments don't effect me; most of the time they aren't serious, are trolling, and the rare ocassion that it could be serious, just ignore it? I'm not about to get angry or offended by some random anon talking crap. If you're the sensitive type, then just don't go to sites like this.

It means every post can be taken individually. You can't judge someone based on anything other than the content of their post, people are free to talk about what they like without fear of retribution, damaged reputation or being attacked on a personal level. And often they actually work together to do something good.

So basically, what twocows said.