Friday, 8 July 2011

Internet Anonymity - A thing of the past?

I've noticed recently whenever I sign up to something or register to take part in a forum of some kind - even if it's just to leave my comment to someone else's story in a paper or on a blog - my computer recognises me through either my Facebook or Gmail accounts and wants to link everything up. It wants everyone I know to know that I cared enough to comment on the article on the latests dumb name for a celebrity baby.

And I suddenly thought to myself - is that really something I want everyone knowing that I commented on? But that got me thinking about all the stuff that for years everyone has done online with complete anonymity. That's why no-one in the world, when you ask them in polite company, likes or looks at porn - it's disgusting! Yet, away from the scrutiny of others the internet seems to have miraculously found a few people who do like to look at other people naked. Go figure!

But facebook and linkedin and lots of other sites work on the six degrees of separation factor. If you can cross link people then, just like those ads about sexually transmitted diseases tell us - your contact increases exponentially. Even the sad and lonely cat lady has 2 friends, and if they have 2 friends and they have 2 friends - etc etc etc. Suddenly sad old Mrs Feline from down the street has thousands of friends.

Recently in Sydney Australia the bones of an old lady were found in an apartment. She died 8 years before and no-one noticed. But the smell you say! If you knew what part of Sydney it was you'd understand. Surrey Hills is where the party/cafe crowd live. It's trendy with streets of clubs and eateries. It's home to the famous Oxford Street - what was once Sydney's famously gay thoroughfare - but has now become - like any hard partying soul - a dirty, toothless, former shadow of itself who will now accept anyone with a few dollars and a need to get high. Anyway - I digress. I was on about the bones of the lady who died and I noticed family, friends and authorities all suddenly getting into the paper as to why it wasn't their fault they didn't notice the death of an old lady to such an extent that she had been reduced to bones, locked in her house, her amenities cut off for non payment - 8 years of pension cheques going paid but untouched etc etc. How many more guilty souls would there be if she had been on facebook?

And once you have a handy method of touching base with so many people - how can you possibly know them well enough to know if they'd died. I think that should be the new facebook standard for friends - do you know this person well enough to go around to their house and peer in a window if they suddenly stopped posting?

But then - now we have facebook trying to connect everything we do with everyone we know - how is that possible? Part of me thinks the loss of anonymity is a good thing. No more horrendous flaming from cowards behind the keyboard. No more trolling and bating to get responses - sometimes in the cruellest of ways. And particularly no more sexual predators pretending to be someone they're not. And when you weigh it up like that it's easy to see the good outweighs the bad. But part of me still wants my anonymous world on the net so I can indulge my most base urges. Who can honestly say when they heard about something shocking - the temptation to do a quick google to see for themselves wasn't considered?

And it's easy to say it's a freedom of speech issue and a human rights issue to be able to go about your business online without being tracked and identified at every click. But doesn't part of you consider the shocking abuses and argue, even with those basic freedom issues, that, the same way you have to own your actions in the real world, you should have to own your actions online. The fear is - if it's something you don't want anyone to know about - or worse - you shouldn't be doing it! But where do you draw the line. Does everyone really need to know every time someone taps their foot under the partition in the cubicle next door? Who polices those doing legally unacceptable things online and who's doing morally unacceptable stuff. And whose morals do we use as a base guide - Larry Flint, Hugh Hefner or the Pope?

It's such a hard thing to make a definitive call on. It's not illegal to make a comment anonymously online - and yet, should anyone be making a comment they are not willing to put their name to. Is forcing people to own their online actions a human rights, or even a freedom of speech issue? Stopping people from saying or doing what they want becomes a judgement call about consequences. No-one should be allowed to bully or sexually harrass online any more than they should be allowed to in the real world. There are countless examples of terrible abuses online leading to tragic results to a real person in our physical world. Where do I stand? I hate the automatic linking of  everything I do to one giant data base, but I'm all in favour of people having to put a name to what they write or do online. It just doesn't need to be publicised to every person you know via facebook.

Once again thanks to the NOW thousands of people who have read my first novel.... INNER CITY

1 comment:

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