Trying to Remove Anonymity is a Terrible Idea

Over at Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick discusses yet another recent pundit talking about how we should remove anonymity or pseudonymity from the internet, and start requiring everyone to use their real and verified name. It’s a fucking terrible idea for so many reasons, and I think Ryan put it quite well:

None of these questions seem to enter the equation when already-verified pundits write neoliberal fan fiction about how the internet could be redesigned to make them more comfortable. But, also, to even consider this argument while the country of Ukraine, anti-war protesters inside of Russia, and Iranian citizens all digitally organize and wage info wars against oppressive state actors and while Brazil navigates a deeply contentious election featuring a coup-loving WhatsApp-amplified would-be dictator incumbent is, frankly, absurd. It’s also a functionally impossible idea.

But let’s say it was possible. Magically, overnight, the internet became read-only for anyone who wasn’t verified by some kind of posting passport system. Not only would that absolutely knock dozens of countries and thousands of communities off the internet immediately, it would turn the social web into essentially the same kind of thing people see on broadcast media. Which sucks and is boring and exactly why the internet is so popular. I think it’s particularly funny that people who make this argument assume that anyone would even keep using the internet if the only thing they could do on it was read posts from verified users. In fact, I have never written anything more confidently in my life than what I am about to write right here: Verified users are without question the worst part of any mainstream platform and if you want to imagine a world without online anonymity, go tell me about the incredible original content trending on LinkedIn right now.

Ryan Broderick

Yup. There’s a laundry list of reasons removing anonymity/pseudonymity is both a bad idea and a technical impossibility (even systems that claim to require a real name like Facebook are filled with fake accounts). It also wouldn’t solve what they think it would solve – the internet didn’t invent gossips, mob mentalities, shunning, nor sociopaths. Even cynically, things are a just a bit more “writ large”, a bit easier to bump into or get embroiled in. And that wouldn’t change with some cockamamie “real id” system.

Hypersigils, Identity, and the Internet

Back in 2010, I ended up having a really rewarding Twitter conversation with some very smart people, talking about hypersigils and how they apply to the internet. I’ve been thinking more about the topic lately, and wanted to expand on what was said before.

Let’s start with the term hypersigil. The term was coined by Grant Morrison, but the concept has been around for a lot longer than that. The term has a certain magickal [sic] connotation because of its origins, and I know that some folks get squicked out about that. If it makes you feel any better, just think of it as a psychological focus used to affect personal change, in the form of creating a narrative. If that’s still not enough, come up with a better term that does an even better job of wrapping a complex concept into a compact term, that does an even better job of packing loads of exformation into one word, and then popularize that instead. I’d love to hear it.
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Sherry Turkle on Social Media

Social media, for all of it’s bounties—and I’m very enthusiastic of all the bounties of social media—it also gives us an opportunity to hide. We perform ourselves on social media, and that is different from being ourselves on social media. That ability to perform yourself is also an ability to hide. It leads to something that I call “Fear of missing out.” You’re always watching what other people are doing and you begin to be jealous because they’re showing their best selves and you’re showing your best self. You almost become jealous of the life you live on Facebook. You have to remind yourself that it’s your life because you’re showing your best self. Sherry Turkle

Virtual Home

This may perhaps be a post better suited for my other blog, but for some reason, I felt it better suited to talk in this one about the notion of virtual spaces as a home, which is a topic recently touched upon over at Terra Nova in Bonnie Ruberg’s recent post: Grounded in Virtual Spaces. Her post broaches the topic that in many ways, blogs serve as a surrogate home on the internet.

But what exactly is “home”? Several Native American tribes believe that home is where you are born (in a geographical sense — I somehow doubt they were referring to the hospital room specifically), and that there is a spiritual connection tied to that area from then onward. This doesn’t mean you have to live there your whole life, but it will still have an effect on you in often subtle ways. Personally, I’m a big fan of this idea, and feel it works well to define a virtual home as well. Blogs (whether it’s a myspace page, friendster, facebook, blogger, or a stand alone site like this one) are often our first real forays into being a creator or participant in the virtual arena. It provides an anchor point where they are free to express themselves however they want (to let their guards down, figuratively speaking). People may move on or away from these blogs or pages, but their time spent with their own space to create and express themselves will continue to have an effect on them throughout their other endeavors.

Forums, however, serve a complementary but separate role, more similar to third spaces (Bowling alleys, pubs, places people gather that are neither home nor work), where it is a peer gathering of people collaborating to form a dialogue. It does not qualify as a home, per se, in that no matter how freeform the structure of the forum is, it is still ultimately governed by someone else. We may even end up spending more time in that third space than we do in our homes (even more true on the internet, where “home” serves as a place to toss links and thoughts before heading back out into browsing, with only the occasional extended period spent cleaning up or redesigning the site), but that does not alter the distinction between the two spaces.

I’m not really going anywhere with this in revelatory terms, but I did want to share. I may expand it later.

Identity

I’ve been thinking about the concept of identity a lot lately (with my essay due in two weeks, this isn’t too surprising). I’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty strung out the past few days, frustrated by pretty much everything. (It’s been a viscious cycle: I have to psyche myself up to progress with the convention and make contacts out here… I manage to do it and finally feel comfortable and happy with the process, email in what I’ve done… after reading the responses, I’m back to being frustrated as hell.)

I’ve been spending time on IRC (I leave it open in another window while I write and occasionally glance at it to see if anything interesting is being talked about), and have found myself getting more and more pissed off by it. I’ve kept coming back to IRC intermittently ever since I originally started being online, and invariably I end up getting frustrated and leave. Looks like this will be another one of these occasions. I just can’t seem to help but get irritated when I frequent a channel for more than a week: the mishmash of young teens (and the angst and stupidity that goes with it), college-age elitists, and a thin layer of talented, intelligent, caring people that are generally silent for about 95% of their time online… it’s just frustrating.
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