Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I'd just like to repost an insightful comment by "fyngyrz" that I read on Slashdot today. The topic was how some people become huge jerks when granted online anonymity. But sometimes society can be a big jerk, too. Sometimes when a person does something wrong, and crosses a certain line--or is wrongly convicted of doing so--collectively we are never willing to forgive, nor forget.

There's another important issue here: Anonymity can be a worthy tool for social reaction and revolution when the individual expresses a minority or otherwise unpopular opinion; some of the other nasty habits of society include ostracization; limiting availability of jobs; sabotaging retirement; false accusations, false imprisonment, inappropriate listing on the no-fly, no-buy, and the sexual/violent offender (AKA as the you're-fucked) lists; singling out for "attention" from the local (or not local) cops; vandalism; burning crosses on the lawn; DOS, etc.

While true free speech cloaked in anonymity definitely opens the door for the proverbial "Internet Superturd", suppressing it isn't something that uniformly does good. For instance, Google+'s recent insistence on "real id" effectively eliminates any viewpoint that is sufficiently off-center to present a personal risk at a level unacceptable to the speaker. This in turn means that as the speaker's social load and dependencies increase - family, depending upon keeping one's job, political position, etc. - the more effectively they are muzzled in a "real id" environment.

Another example is Facebook's TOS where they forbid anyone on the s/v offender's list from joining; anyone put on that list is now locked out and locked to the bottom level of society; doesn't matter that they've paid their debt to society by serving time, paying fines, whatever the judge decided: they're permanently locked out, not to mention often having to live under a bridge or in a camp. That kind of ostracism is way too powerful a tool to use against someone who is supposedly free to walk around; they'll never re-integrate, they can't. If you're going to treat someone that badly, you'd better have the sense to put them in jail and keep them there or else you're just grooming a very, very angry person whom someone will unhappily meet on a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, this only treats the unfairly listed -- kids having sex across age lines, polygamists, pee-ers in bushes, etc. -- even worse. By far the best solution is to treat payment of sentencing debt as 100% presumed rehabilitation unless shown otherwise. The government shows no sign of being responsible here either, nor forcing corporations like facebook to be responsible, which again brings us back to the need for pushback. And given the lynch mob mentality associated with these matters, anonymity is definitely called for.

In general right now, our government is doing a lot of things it shouldn't be doing, and these activities are currently pushing hard against individual rights of free speech, free travel and privacy. IMHO, anything that does away with anonymity under these circumstances is extremely unwise.