Why Online Anonymity is important, even if H8 is the price we pay

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An article in the Observer this week about INTERNET RAGE became the most read story on the Guardian media website yesterday. It explored just why people get so angry on the web and how we can stop them making death threats and rape jokes on YouTube, rounding up with a call to ban anonymous commenting online as the only solution for the floods of h8.

But I just don’t agree. Sure it sounds reasonable that we should be willing to put our names to our words all the time. But it’s not how the internet works and it’s not how it should work. It’s not how real life works either – we don’t walk around the streets with our names and email addresses plastered to our foreheads. And we’re perfectly free to say stuff, buy things and travel around without handing over ID everytime we do.
There are times when it is fine and even good to be anonymous, a passer-by or an observer.

Google have provoked arguments about anonymity this week as well. They’ve deleted Google+ accounts that they think don’t sound like proper names. That includes the G+ account of blogger Bug Girl (who a great blog about it here) anyone else with a “funny name” and businesses who jumped the gun and got personal accounts.

Google are trying to strip anonymity out of their social network, just like Facebook did.

But though it may cut down on irresponsible H8 postings, here are three reasons we need to keep parts of the internet anonymous:

1) All those people who need anonymity for their own safety– whether that’s because they’re bloggers in the Middle East whose reports would get them into trouble with a repressive government, or because they’re corporate whistleblowers, or because they’re professionally forbidden from blogging about their work.

2) People should be free to try out ideas, different roles without having everything attached to their name all the time. I’m not just talking about dodgy role-play sites. I mean we’d lose lots of great stuff like GirlWithAOneTrackMind or the police blogger NightHawk if we forced everyone to use their name all the time.

3) OH YES. The internet isn’t real. Saying you want to kill somebody isn’t the same as killing them, though it may be horrible and upsetting.

Anna Leach

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