Is it possible in this technological day and age to truly have anonymity on the internet?
There’s been a forum thread over at ASN for a while now about how/if people share their RL information with anyone in SL.
As expected, it runs the gamut – some protesting that they never give out any RL information, some saying they share, but carefully, and some who don’t care who knows what.
In the latest post, someone commented that true anonymity on the internet is an illusion anyway.
So many of us have so many different accounts – LinkedIn, Facebook, emails, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, Reddit, Plurk, Ello, ASN, SL – the list is seemingly endless.
Everything done on the internet leaves a trail, even if you think it’s private, or has been deleted.
If you are part of the ‘digital native’ demographic (those who have grown up with the internet – yes, Virginia, there was a time when the internet didn’t exist!), you think nothing of living your life on social media and posting about anything and everything.
Children these days have a social presence on the internet when they are born – thanks to Skype, Facebook, and other social media, because proud parents are posting for them until they are old enough to do so themselves.
I sometimes wonder if these children will be resentful of that later in life.
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People want anonymity for different reasons.
Particularly in SL, a lot of users want to explore things they couldn’t in RL – whether that’s because of an injury, a disability, or just social stigmas/mores that make certain things impossible in their RL.
There’s a lot of chatter about people wanting to be anonymous to hide who they really are.
In the case of internet ‘trolls,’ many of them know their behavior would be unacceptable in RL face-to-face interactions, and trolling on the internet allows them that screen of anonymity.
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if people crave anonymity, not to hide who they truly are, but in order to be who they truly are.
What if you are (or think you may be) homosexual and you live in a homophobic community?
What if you are pro-life and live in a very pro-choice community?
What if you are a successful businessperson in your mostly Christian community, but you have an interest in paganism or other alternative religions?
Though we like to kid ourselves that we are free to be whomever we want in RL, it’s not true.
Where I live, for example, the community is Christian, very conservative, and homophobic.
That’s not to say that the people are not nice – they are.
But if someone in the community were to be very vocal about their ‘pro-choice’ stance, for example, that person would quickly find themselves ostracized.
Most of it wouldn’t be overt – it would be hushed whispers, rumors about town, etc.
If that person worked in the same small town, it would have a negative effect on their employment.
That wouldn’t be the reason given, of course.
But it would still happen.
So that bit of anonymity the internet offers allows people the freedom to express (or explore) their beliefs/ideas without fear of RL reprisals.
What about internet ‘trolls’?
My argument still stands – it allows those people to be who they really are.
They don’t share their true beliefs or values in RL, because they know there would be negative consequences.
The anonymity offered by the internet makes them feel safe enough to express their true thoughts.
Perhaps the anonymity is an illusion, but unless/until there are RL consequences for what they do on the internet, that illusion will remain.