Online anonymity. Some people see it as a great thing for fostering political activism and encouraging conversation; others are troubled by the fact that criminals and trolls can hide behind it. So, is online anonymity a good thing or not?
The truth is that it’s a bit of a gray area, and if you’re wondering whether to allow anonymity on your site, or insist on verifying everyone’s identity, there are several pros and cons of online anonymity one must consider…
Pro: Freedom of Speech
There’s no denying that online anonymity has made it a whole lot easier for people to freely express their views on a whole host of topics, some important, some trivial. Not only are activists able to spread their messages via platforms like Twitter, even when they’re living under oppressive regimes, but people who are struggling with illnesses and life struggles are able to find support without fear online, and this is undoubtedly a good thing, not only for them but for every one of us on the planet.
Con: Online Abuse
Of course, if you spend any time online at all, and especially if you run a website or blog, or spend a lot of time posting on social media, you will know that online anonymity can bring a whole host of vitriol and abuse with it. When someone is able to hide behind an avatar or anonymous username, they feel empowered to speak more harshly than they might in the real world.
Pro: Less Judgement
When you’re posting anonymously online, no one knows who you are, and that means that you can discuss sensitive and controversial subjects, like abortion and politics, more freely without having to worry that you’ll be negatively judged in your daily life. Sure, you might catch fire for it online, but you can walk away from your keyboard anytime you like
Con: It’s Easy to Lie
If you’re online, you can be anyone you want to be and do anything you want to do without consequences. Not only does this mean that you could end up talking to someone who isn’t who they say they are, but it also means that businesses could end up acting illegally by selling sensitive goods, such as alcohol and knives to people who are not old enough to possess them. That’s why more businesses are using are starting to use an identity verification service such as Jumio to ensure that people are who they say they are. This probably won’t help people who are using internet dating sites to find a partner, for example, though!
Con: Few Repercussions
Although there have been a few more instances of police visiting online trolls issuing death threats and otherwise speaking way out of turn, it’s still relatively uncommon for people who spout racist abuse, make rape threats or otherwise act illegally online to be dealt with like they would in the real world. This is one of the biggest strikes against online anonymity.
Pro: Whistleblowers Can Get Information Out There
Online anonymity has certainly made it a lot easier for whistleblowers to release information about wrongdoing at their place of work or in their community. Because it’s anonymous, they do not have to worry quite so much about being dismissed from work or otherwise targeted by the people they’re exposing.
Con: Information Cannot be Trusted
Of course, if a whistle blower does come out with a certain piece of information because they are anonymous, it’s difficult to trust what they say. They may just be a troll looking to make waves, or a person with a vendetta against a particular company. Unless you know the source and know that they have a real connection to the people they’re calling out, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt, and that can muddy the waters somewhat.
To summarize, there are good and bad points about online anonymity. The rise of social media and online connections have changed the way we all communicate, but we, sadly, have little control over the ways in which other people choose to communicate with us. On balance, online anonymity is probably a good thing in the majority of cases, but businesses and online platforms are going to have to work harder and do more to improve their policies as online communication evolves further. They are also going to have to ensure that they have measures in place to verify identities when there is a legal obligation to do so on their part.