Why does the Internet have to be anonymous?

In This thread an argument is made that the country of a poster’s location is not anyone’s business. Counter-arguments were made that true location may be relevent in some circumstances.

But my question is one of the whole business of an anonymous internet.

I am a late-comer to the whole world of message boards and internet browsing, even though I’m in my forties I’ve only been on-line for about 3 years. I’ve since run into all kinds of stories of on-line dishonesty (for want of a better word). Men pretending to be women, women pretending to be men, adults pretending to be kids, and so on and so on.

I am not comfortable myself with lying. It would make me feel nauseous to have a username like “sexxxybeest” and talk trash or spew vitriol with impunity just because I felt that I would never be held accountable because I had my tracks covered.

So, what’s the pro and con? Would you still post if your name and country were your real-world very own? Would your posting ‘style’ change? If the SDMB changed it’s policy and your username and location were now your real name and city. state would you sue to have your posting history deleted?

One of the highly touted benefits of the internet that has been praised since Godknowswhen was precisely that it was anonymous. That everyone had equal access to the information and an equal ability to provide information to others. Then, the receiving individual, now with access to more information than they had ever thought possible, was free to make up their own mind about what they want to do with the information and the onus came upon them to decide if it was true or not.

Of course, just as in other situations, knowing the identity (whether the “real” one or a brand name as it were) is helpful to determine whether or not the information is reliable (to use a SDMB example, someone would trust Quagdop more than Handy when asking for medical advice*). As such, having some measure of identification is helpful. If the SDMB were to assign a random username to the poster each time, things would get confusing and I doubt that anyone would continue posting.

Would people still continue to post on the SD if they knew that their ultimate identity were to be freely available? There have been threads on this before. I recall that one poster gave his full name and home town (of course, they could have been lying) and another poster said that they are scared to death that someone would find out what they’ve posted - like her mom logging on and reading some of the things she’s said.

Of course, many Dopers like to go meet other dopers and, over the course of time, have come to know their peers far better than just posting on the message board. One doper even recently had a party at her house (there have been other examples of dopers helping others move, etc.).

That doesn’t directly relate to your question, but perhaps it provides some information that will help you. As for your question, if the SDMB suddenly provided your “real” contact information, I think the boards would drop out of sight very quickly. If for no other reason than people generally don’t post their addresses on the internet in general (spamming and etc.). I think an equal number would probably drop out because they would suddenly be held accountable for their opinions and most of the debate would grind to a halt.

On one hand, I think that shows a lack of conviction in themselves, but I certainly wouldn’t want my personal information broadcast over the 'net, other than what I personally have posted in the past. To be fair, there are a number of posters who would continue to post but would become a bit more guarded in their messages and others who would continue to post as they had before.

*The advice-seeker should of course look to their own physician rather than internet message board posters, but you get the idea.

I post my real name but not my location, other than “California desert.” However, the idea of not posting location or e-mail as a protection agains spam and other unwanted communication is an illusion. Anyone who wants to find out all about me can. And spam is a fact of life whether or not you make your address know, it’s known.

Anyone who has opinions really ought not be shy about being accountable for them. I’ve run onto a couple of people who insist that it is normal to sit around home with a loaded gun at the ready. I don’t know who they are or where they are located but I’d like to so if one of them is near me I can move somewhere else.

I think that people, at least on a board like SDMB, ARE accountable for their opinions. If the group of people that I share opinions with know me as “Tastes of Chocolate” is that any more invalid then people that know me by a maiden name vs a married name, or by a shortened version of my given name? SDMB’s policy of no puppets and limited name changes keeps us accountable.

Back to the OP, if my legal name and address were posted, you bet it would change my posting habits. I don’t wander around the streets handing out cards with my name and address to everyone I chat with, because I don’t want them showing up at my door. I don’t wander around the internet posting my name and address for the same reason.

I attract nuts. I’ve had two stalkers in my lifetime: One while I was in college and one online.

The online guy didn’t like my opinion of his poetry. He went a bit psycho about it, and then we discovered that it wasn’t his poetry at all–he was a plagiarist.

That revelation pushed him over the edge. He found out where I work and started calling me. He threatened me with rape, bombs, and other fates. He has been kicked off various ISPs, visited by various law enforcement officials, and he is still free to be a complete moron.

But he’s in Jacksonville, and I’m in Ohio.

I am traceable. I treat every internet interaction as if my worst enemies will be reading it. Mainly because my worst enemy probably is. (Hi, Chuck, ya loser!) Most of us can be found, if the person wants to find us badly enough, but we can also be found by the asshole who’s road-raging behind us or the neighbor who doesn’t like our trees or the disgruntled postal worker delivering the mail.

I’m going to choose an extreme case, but some time ago, a poster chimed in and admitted he was attracted to children, and discussed the issue. Would you expect him to do the same if his name and adress were disclosed?
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of wackos out there. Who could ring at your door because they were pissed off for some weird reason by what you posted. Or stalkers. I’m thinking right now about another recent example. Some SDMB posters organized a postcard exchanges (and of course had to exchange their adresses). Sure enough, one of them got a threatening call because someone, for some weird reason, had been pissed off by the postcard he had received.
Some people also post about their personnal issues, and wouldn’t want their relatives/husband/parents, etc…to know about some things they’re asking advices about. Some time ago, someone took upon herself to warn the husband of a SDMB poster about something totally inucuous the doper had written somewhere on the web (something like “I suspect your wife thinks about cheating on you”)
Also, if you give your name/location, some people could quite easily find other infos about you that you’re not necessarily willing to share. I might not care about my name and adress being disclosed, but not be willing to say what my job is, or
whether I’ve kids or not, or that I spent two years in jail, or that I’m posting from a psychiatric hospital, or whatever else. Extremely few personnal records can be accessed to in France due to extremely strict laws about databases and privacy, but I understand it’s not necessarily the case in the US.

And of course, there could be people who have extremely good reasons to hide their name and address. An abusive ex, for instance.

Also, what is posted on the net essentially stay forever. Maybe I’ve nothing to hide today, but will have some reason 5 years down the line not to want someone to make too easily the connection between me and something I’ve posted somewhere some years ago.

Finally, even if you think that these are rare exceptions (and I’m not convinced there are that rare on the internet), I see no reason why I should give my name. What purpose would it serve? What would it change? Given that I can’t see any, it seems to me it’s perfectly sensible to hide my identity, just in case. Of course, if someone really wanted to find out, he most certainly could (well…at least some reasonnably computer-savy people could). But why help them doing so?

I think the anonymity of the internet offers users the chance for a fresh start, at least when it comes to message boards. I can be anyone I want to be. Granted that anonymity can be used for good as well as evil but for me it has given me a chance to find out who I really am. In my rl circles, people that I have known for years have classified and stereotyped me. I don’t seem to have the guts or the desire to put the time in to change that. However, a message board lets me project my image of myself without having someone look at me cross eyed because a jock shouldn’t be reading subjects like string theory or discussing philosophy. While I do not do much of that here yet (I am still intimidated by the posters on this board), I find myself getting more comfortable with who I am due to the advantage being able to explore anonymously.

I know this is anecdotal but I have found that the internet has been quite beneficial for me.

And actually, it would rather be like bringing a billboard with your name and phone number on it, since you don’t get to choose who is reading your posts, while you choose people you chat with in the streets.

Finally, to answer your questions :

Most probably.

The “style” probably wouldn’t change, but there would probably be some things I wouldn’t post about. Though since I already assume that whatever I can post here could be linked to me in some way, perhaps not that much.

Sue? Certainly not. Not worth the hassle. Insisting on it being deleted? Maybe, on principle, since it’s not the agreement I signed up and I don’t like being “betrayed” (not the most correct word, but I can’t think of another in english right now). Leaving the board? Quite likely.

Nah. Anyone who really wants to find me, and knows how and in which threads to find the necessary information can get my exact address. So, one of you could conceivably track me down, show up at my house and chop me up into little bits, but then, so could anyone off the street follow me home and do the same. I’m not going to worry about it. Not everyoen is goign to feel this way, of course, so it’s best if personally identifiable information is witheld unelss the member himself chooses to reveal it. I still wouldn’t count country of residence as such, however.

  1. You are not me.
  2. You don’t live where I live.
  3. You have not the same concerns I have.
    Salaam. A

That’s how I see it. I remind myself of that if I ever feel in danger of getting too carried away in a thread. Just my luck to be embarrassed at my golden wedding anniversary with some wise-acre nephew reading my drunken, foul-mouthed rants to my wife.

Good point about the stalkers, though. I still find it amazing that some loon with an account can get so worked up he’d threaten someone who has no bearing on him in real life.

Mind you it still ticks me off to wonder if some erudite sounding poster is in fact, not a multi-degreed law professor but some schmuck at the library who smells funny. I try so hard to be honest on line as well as real life, If I say I’ve been to Rome, Italy and toured the Vatican I would hope to be trusted. I try to exercise restraint as if I could be “outed” as well as to not offend anyone accidently (if they need to be offended, that’s different :wink: ).

I do not understand your comments.

Please explain.

One thing people really should realize is that internet anonymity is an illusion. On the internet it is easy to be anonymous to anyone who doesn’t really care who you really are. But anyone who cares enough can discover your identity. Anyone who posts here under the illusion that no one will ever discover who they really are is fooling themselves. The only reason they are anonymous is that no one cares.

As technology improves, our illusion of anonymity is going to crumble. We won’t be anonymous on the internet, we won’t be anonymous walking down the street, we won’t be anonymous in what we buy, who we talk to, or what we say. It will all be available to anyone who cares enough to dig it up. The main protection will simply be that no one cares, but it will be easier and easier to dig up that information. The only sure protection is two-way transparency…if anyone can dig up information about anyone, it will be easy to find out who’s digging up information about me. Knowing who is gathering the information and what purpose it will be used for is the only guarantee of safety, since privacy policies can only work on the people who don’t care. The powerful will always be able to circumvent privacy policies. Our protection isn’t protecting our privacy, it’s invading the privacy of the powerful and finding out what they’re up to.

I don’t think Bmalion is referring to you personally, Aldebaran. I think he’s just using the example of your post as a starting point for a general discussion about anonymity on the internet.

By the way, I could be you. You don’t know who I am, either. I could be anybody! :slight_smile:

Also by the way, this is intended to be light-hearted and humorous, and not a jibe at you in any way.

…by filing a report/complaint with folks like me and following it up with a civil or criminal subpoena.

Even without taking the subpoena step, an Abuse or Fraud complaint (with sufficient evidence that a violation of policy or law has occured) will be investigated and the responsible account brought to light using the IP, date, time, timezone, and proprietary logs of the network.

At that point, anonymity gives way to privacy, and the privacy of that account owner is vigilantly protected by the representatives of the network, but they will know what was done and they will know who’s account, phone number, etc was used to do it.

Such network representatives are not police, prosecutors, judges, or jury and as such will presume innocence, refusing to share the detailed results of their investigation without a subpoena or court order. In certain extreme situations such as issues of national security or child exploitation/endangerment, network representatives may pre-emptively supply investigation results to certain government/law enforcement agencies. Or the offical channels can be fast-tracked, but such decisions remain in the hands of government/law enforcement.

Not entirely. You’re right that anonymity on sites like this one is an illusion, but there’s a lot of technology designed to preserve anonymity. One example is the Freenet Project (old CNET article), which is used for everything from political dissent in countries like China to the more mundane stuff that crops up on regular P2P networks. Freenet is carefully designed at every layer so that it’s impossible to know who is uploading, downloading, or hosting any particular chunk of data.

These reasons make good sense to me. Even #3, by itself, is enough. There are 47,000+ members at SDMB, for example. We cannot presume to know what their concerns and wishes regarding anonymity are.

On a much smaller forum where people knew each other’s names and location, I knew someone who had a psycho show up uninvited. When rejected, he harassed her for years with vile comments, lies and threats of legal prosecution for the purpose of harassment.

With the current political climate in some countries, including the USA, some people might not feel as free to express political opinions as they do under anonymity.

Some people who are well-known or have a famous family might wish to be treated as in as normal a way as possible. (Okay, I confess. I’m really Cher.) :smiley:
Just drop me a note with “Cher, USA” in the address.

Just to make clear, the argument I made, and the decision which appears to have been made by the Administration, was not that “country of residence” was “not anyone’s business,” but rather that releasing it without the poster’s express prior consent contravened Reader policy under the board contract. The Reader is under no legal obligation in the US (AFAIK) to protect all personal information, but their policy as worded indicated that they would do so. (If the Reader was based in Europe, they would be legally obligated to do so under EU Data Protection policy unless they had the consent of the poster to release it.)

Personally, if a poster here believes that country of residence or any other personal information is none of anyone else’s business, then it should remain so.