Is web anonymity the last refuge of fools and idiots?

From the very first time almost when people communicate with each other via some form on computer link up nicknames have been an integral part of that communication. In the beginning days with bulletin board services right though to today’s Web 2.0 and social media the old adage of on the Internet no-one knows you’re a dog has held true.

Even though one of the basic tenets of Web 2.0 and social media is transparency and openness nicknames have persevered. For a lot of people there is still that need to either be anonymous or to create some new kind of identity for themselves. With the Internet this is so easy to do as regardless of how open you may appear no-one for the large part knows who you are. Sure in the Web 2.0 world with it’s continuing onslaught of conferences that anyone wanting to be anyone in the business of Social Media identities are easy to confirm.

However anonymity still seems to be the rule rather than the exception in the larger web experience. For some it is primarily a way to protect their offline lives. For others it also seems to be a way for them to behave in ways that their mother’s would wash their mouths out with soap.

Interestingly enough Alan Patrick at Broadstuff had a post today where he was comparing the types of conversations around some web conference in France called Le Web. He points out that there is a big difference in the types of back channel conversations be had. On the one side there is the Twitter based conversation and then there is the IRC like conversation happening on the Le Web uStream channel.

The thing that struck Alan was the quality of the conversation on each of the channels

The difference was this – one was sharp, irreverent, funny, cruel, anarchic and a hoot to watch. The other was on Twitter.
One had a go at the piousness, pomposity, posturing , product pimping and peccadilloes of the presenters and promoters, argued the rights and wrongs of the arguments, pimped and flamed various speakers, and was the olde altnet at its best (and worst). The other was respectful, simpering, careful what it said and, well, mostly lame. Thousand, and thousands of bytes of blanc tweetmange.

In his opinion the difference between the two boiled down to a single factor – anonymity.

Now as one who started out his online communication experience being fully behind using things like nicknames I think there is a problem with this anonymity. As I have grown in this online world I gradually became more comfortable with using my real identity but I don’t believe my way of communicating has changed. For me it has always been a case of calling a spade a spade and if you didn’t like it too bad.

With anonymity though I find a lot of people talk and treat others in ways that they wouldn’t have the guts to in real life. I willingly accept the responsibility for my words – good or bad. Being anonymous removes this responsibility and I personally don’t think that is right. Regardless of where I might be having conversation – online or offline – I have always believe that you are accountable for what you say and trying to hide behind some facade belittle the worth of what you have to say.

I can understand where in some cases this anonymity is needed especially in cases like whistleblowers and should be protected with all our might but in general conversation – I don’t think so. If you aren’t willing to stand in front of your words and be willing to accept any repercussion of them then what value do those words have?