Web anonymity

Techdirt is a good site for … er … tech things and this was interesting of late:

As we’ve seen over and over again, many of our most insightful comments have come from anonymous commenters.

So I was actually surprised a few years ago when TechCrunch moved to switch all of its comments to Facebook comments, claiming that one of the good things about it was that it required you to provide your real name.

Apparently that wasn’t actually such a good thing for lots and lots of commenters — as after nearly two years, TechCrunch has dumped Facebook comments and is pleading for commenters to come back.

To me, Facebook is simply fascistic and the only reason I stay in there is because my Russian readers use it a lot [despite warnings] and take my posts from there. So there’s not really much choice.

However, it really stinks why anyone would require your personal information, not just online but anywhere. I was asked if I wanted a bonus card at a supermarket and when I took the brochure, they wanted all kinds of information – really personal stuff.

“Oh, it’s for free delivery.”

But I don’t want free delivery. The day I do, I’ll let you know.

At OoL and at my site, there’s no moderation or captcha for those who’ve commented before and are not blacklisted. Hope this is not red rag to a bull but we’ve had relatively little trouble and let’s face it – most names used by commenters are anonymous anyway. Could someone explain to me the pleasure a lowlife gets from posting someone’s personal details?

The argument that “if you’ve got nothing to hide” – BS! It’s nothing to do with that – it’s to do with your obsession over having to know every little detail about someone else’s life.

The Grauniad touched on it some time back. Forbes ran something on it. And Jeffery Deaver’s Roadside Crosses gives a fictionalized account of it.

There is a situation though where anonymity cloaks interpersonal crime. Some time back, some fellow bloggers experienced stalking and trolling by a net criminal who supposedly did it for kicks or maybe to bring those bloggers down a peg or two or for a different political stance or whatever – it would need a psychiatrist to give a more substantive answer.

Now I noted that some of us who believed in anonymity as a general rule, in that situation used channels to pin the bastard down. So clearly there is a thing called “libertarian lite” and I agree with it. Being a classical liberal first and foremost, there are limits and the limits are easily defined in this – when a troll deliberately sets out to cause malicious damage by clogging comments threads, hacking and causing havoc and even falsely flagging sites – that deserves all it gets.

At the same time, it’s troubling to a libertarian that even though we want this person known by authorities, we obviously don’t want ourselves on file. Herein lies our dilemma.

[H/T haiku]

4 comments for “Web anonymity

  1. haiku
    January 28, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Interestingly enough, Techdirt has very little to do with “tech things” in a direct sense.

    They are more focussed on (for example) the USA’s misuse of the DCMA / copyright law / etc as a means of defending ‘old’ business models by stifling innovation.

  2. P T Barnum
    January 28, 2013 at 9:48 am

    None of the bloggers who had been treated to the troll’s attentions and went on to identify him to his ISP, though, named him on their blogs to my knowledge. So they allowed him to preserve his anonymity in blogland, while he was posting comments falsely giving names and addresses of bloggers he was taunting. I don’t quite see the dilemma you detect, James.

  3. January 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Yes, it does seem pretty clearcut where the line is and what netiquette asks us to do. I think these things have been handled well.

  4. January 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    And would anonymity stop the net criminals? Not really. There are people out there who use their real names and still indulge in criminal activity and other nefarious stuff. Just like some criminals blatantly commit crimes because they know they don’t get locked up.

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