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Does anonymity lead to bad behavior?

14. Jul 2012

You often hear about webmasters complaining about trolls and spammers. Open proxies and Tor are blocked completely by some site or services.

So is it true that anonymity creates bad or abusive behavior? To me the answer is no it is not. Anonymity is abused by individuals because they have better chances to get away with what they are doing. Anonymity may reveal what mankind is made of.

Gossip and rumors are social tools, because it turns out that you are linked closer to someone who dislikes the same things you also dislike, than to someone who just like what you like. When somebody has a bad opinion about someone he/she has this opinion whatever your opinion is. This person may spread their, sometimes strong, opinions, but would refuse to tell the person in question that he/she has these opinions.

Anonymity can be beneficial in that regard. When this person would be fully anonymous and therefore wouldn’t fear anything she could tell you all the opinions she has about you. I think this is a positive outcome.

Anonymity can be great for feedback, especially when you are employed somewhere and telling the truth is risky. (e.g. when you have to put your name under it, you get fired) Anonymity can lead to honesty. “I don’t think our product is good, because….”
I think it benefits in this case.

(Real-)Names give a feedback, opinion, etc. more weight. Sometimes, that’s true. For instance you know that a famous developer has implemented “a way of doing things” and he says that it doesn’t work properly, then you can put more trust in this opinion.

(Real-)Names prevent people from saying anything stupid. When you listen to some politicians you know that this is not true. In fact they are happy to assign their names to their ideas. I wonder if they could do more harm, when they would ask for laws anonymously. A politician wanted to enforce real names on the internet. While I consider myself as privileged enough to give away my real name, there are – unfortunately – countries where you are harshly punished for having a blog with your real name. Overall I prefer to be pseudonymous.

(Real-)Names make discussions nicer, because everybody stands with its name for it. I don’t think it would improve discussions. Maybe people are more polite, but they could be dishonest.

SPAM is a form of advertising and can put spammers in a better position, than competitors. SPAM seems to be successful and because of that it won’t stop. Spammers don’t buy bandwidth or fancy servers, therefore it’s cheap and when only some order a product it’s a success for them. It’s not the anonymity that causes this, it is money. Anonymity helps them to hide their asses.

I agree that the ratio of people who abuse anonymity they get from tools like Tor appears to be high, because people who require to be anonymous don’t use it to troll on a specific website, while the trolls seek anonymity do exactly that. You may don’t see much legit users coming from Tor, because your target audience is privileged enough to be careless about their anonymity.

On this blog the ratio between SPAM and legit comments is worse, most due to low traffic and the fact that there’s nothing to comment on, but not a single SPAM comment was made over Tor. Even if every single one would have been made over Tor, I would not try to block it or treat everything that comes over Tor as SPAM.

Webmaster should check if someone connects over Tor and screen comments closer or approve them manually only.

Criminals exist outside the internet and try to be anonymous there as well. Rape, murder, sexual harassment, stalking have faces and an identity. The victims have known the offenders and it has not helped them. Anonymity can protect victims before and after such crimes.

To me anonymity is something I want anybody to have if he desires to. Trolls will be trolls, haters will be haters. You should deal with them, but don’t require the legit user to give up his/her anonymity.

You can now leave anonymous comments if you so desire. You may think different, I’m fine with that. Even if you totally disagree you can leave a comment anonymously, although this is a bit ironically.

From → General

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