Anonymity is the enemy of civility. The lack of accountability it brings is a problem.
I was having a chat with one of my professors the other day, and we started talking about the nature of the Net. We both agreed that making the Internet an anonymous place was a truly dumb idea.
Let's take a look at what the anonymous nature of the Net has given us:
- Online services, especially e-commerce and auctions, working poorly because of theft and fraudelent bidding.
- Email is falling apart, largely because of spam.
- Newsgroups and other discussion environments are being ruined by people who show up to rant, rave, spam, and otherwise distrupt useful conversations.
- Information exchange is increasingly compromised as a result of anonymous rumors. Online stock tips, national news, the decision to go to war... they all become suspect when we can't tell who said what.
The list goes on.
The real world analogies of these do not make sense. Imagine a work place where everyone came in wearing masks, took anything that interested them, said anything they wanted to say, and then disappeared. You wouldn't know who said or did what. Nothing would ever get done.
Or you're auctioning your 100-year-old piano, and the room is full of masked people who yell their bids. How could you trust them?
What if we built a parallel Internet where no one is welcome unless they have a verifiable identity. This would require everyone to take responsibility for their actions if they want to participate.
No more email spam, because we could trace it to the individual who sent it -- and send them a bill with the costs incurred. No more trolls. No more thefts. No more dumb rumors -- or at least you could know who said what and know what to believe.
Privacy vs. Anonymity
But, you say, doesn't such a non-anonymous environment jeopardize our privacy?
It wouldn't. You could still be private in your dealings; only the necessary parties would have the ability to look you up (because, analogically speaking, they are outside the room). Jon Smith down the street wouldn't know that you bought that Astrolube for your wild sex parties. But you, for example, would know who I am, because we're here having a conversation.
The real world is an example of a place where we have a reasonable amount of privacy, yet we can still be accountable for our actions in day-to-day life. That is, in fact, how modern society is able to operate. If we can do it in real life, why can't we emulate that online?
Anonymity and Freedom of Speech
What about freedom of speech?
Same thing. We can have a non-anonymous Internet and still make it so that our freedom of speech laws apply to the online medium. You can still say whatever you want -- except this time, you can be held accountable and someone can trace it to your person.
Which Internet would you visit, the anonymous one, or the one in which everyone is secure in who they are dealing with?
Personal opinion: sure, there are times when being fully anonymous is nice, but overall I find it to be more of an annoyance -- or even frustration -- than a convenience.