ViolentAcrez, Anonymity, and Misconceptions About Free Speech

I was going to come on here and write a reaction to Adrian Chen’s article, but then I read this piece from fellow Gawker contributor John Scalzi and realized he pretty much said what I was going to say.

A few brief thoughts though:

While I think there are instances in which internet anonymity is valuable and indeed necessary, I must admit that I generally approach anyone in my particular industry who protects their real world identity with a certain amount of skepticism.  If you have something to say that doesn’t involve whistle blowing, insider info, or a risk to your own personal safety, I have to wonder why you can’t put your name to it.  I support people being able to spew nonsense on the interweb, but, as Scalzi notes, this is not Constitutionally covered freedom of speech.

I find myself increasingly annoyed with the attitude in American culture that people should not be held accountable for their actions.  Even if this Reddit case was a free speech issue, freedom of speech does not equate to absolution of consequences. You post creepy pictures on the internet and do a crap job of protecting your identity while doing so? The onus is on you when you lose your job, not the guy who outed you.

Most importantly, it is issues like these that make me long to return to my academic roots. When I was in graduate school, the focus of my studies increasingly became the ethics of identity in virtual spaces.  I was going to examine this through the world of online poker, where multi-accounting, ghosting, account selling, and anonymity all come into play.  What made poker such a great space to investigate the ramifications of these identity issues is because there are real world consequences at stake in the form of money.

There is no money on the line in the case of Violentacrez, but there is a sense of raised stakes. When someone pretends to be a girl on a forum or lies about their attractiveness on a dating site, the effects likely won’t be far reaching, so we never really dwell too long on the behavior. In this instance, and in the instance of online poker, there is much more on the line, so these larger questions about what our rights on the internet are get the attention they deserve.

We don’t have any answers still though. I did my research in 2007. This story broke last week and the extreme reaction from Redditors and Gawker supporters show you we don’t have any resolutions yet.  What the conflict boils down to is this: people are still trying to approach the internet the way they do the real world. It is another issue poker on your computer illustrates perfectly. Rules like “one player to a hand” are easily enforceable in a casino, but online, monitoring something like that is virtually impossible.  Some suggest the solution is to accept these differences and change the rules accordingly.  But for others, the comfort of the corporeal and the familiar is something they hold onto perhaps because this still-young online culture is changing as fast as the Reddit frontpage.

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