Anonymity on the Web

Interaction on the Internet is, no doubt, different than in real life. One such example is the ability to remain anonymous which can leave some users with a feeling of power and abandon.

When they know their face cannot be seen and, in turn, they can’t see the face of anyone else on the web, some users see the opportunity to hurt other people. Seth Godin originally wrote about the problem with anonymity on the Internet in 2004 saying:

“It’s ironic that we’ve set up two very different standards for our trust. In the real world, we’re skeptical of strangers. At the supermarket the other day, someone picked up my favorite brand of olive oil. I waxed on about how great it was, and of course, the shopper put it back and bought something else instead. Online, however, we’re happy to believe whatever image someone sends along, or buy something from a spammer.”

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the last sentence since many users these days glance right past ads and delete unread emails from people I don’t know. Then again, online purchases account for a large share of transactions, so we have become comfortable forking over money to companies whose faces we cannot see. Either way, it’s an interesting commentary on our society that we are fairly comfortable online and often not as comfortable in the physical presence of strangers.

Seth revisited this topic last week adding, “Anonymity hasn’t made the web a better place. Instead, it has allowed some of the worst ideas ever to get published.” He suggests that eliminating anonymity on the Internet would go a long way towards banishing hurtful commentary and reducing spam.

I’d like to believe that it is that simple, but how would it be regulated? What sort of consequences would be set? Wouldn’t it just keep the honest, honest?


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