Internet users anonymous: your days of hiding are numbered

Are the days of being anonymous online and commenting without thought numbered? And is that a good or a bad thing asks Paul Cotton

There was once a time when the idea of using your real name on the internet was discouraged.
Social networking mostly took the form of bulletin boards and chat rooms, online banking was treated with a measure of suspicion. Handles were a necessity.
Things are different now.

We surf a web that’s more comfortable with identity. Entire sites and businesses are driven by it – Facebook and Google being the prime examples. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg aims to create the ultimate address book while Google has spent years building a fairly anonymous portrait of who you are but now via their network of linked services are beginning to tie it back to your name, with Google+ as the spearhead. As we’re encouraged to be ourselves online, it sometimes feels we’re losing the freedom to escape the view of corporations or to be who we want. Is this a bad thing?

With anonymity comes a certain level of power, an ability to disregard social norms and niceties. People that are lovely face-to-face can become vicious the moment they’re no longer responsible for their actions. To some extent, it’s human nature.

I’m divided. In general, cutting anonymity helps keep our darker sides in check. If I was running a blog, I would strongly consider employing an identity driven commenting system (Facebook comments, for instance) in order to give people pause before sharing. They can still make their point, but they’re less likely to include an insult. Do I want to live in a world where the online handle is a memory? Probably not, that feels like another step along the journey to an Orwellian world.

As it stands we can choose to maintain or inhabit ‘safe’ places – or you can venture into the wild and hope your skin is thick enough.

And as long as the safe zones don’t overrun the wild, maybe this is the best way forward.

Paul Cotton is a creative planner at Salmat Digital. Find him on Twitter as @tali3sin. 



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