For a while I thought that internet privacy was over. The era of your mom telling you that you shouldn’t talk to strangers and to keep your identity a secret was coming to an end. I kept the mind set that the internet has become just another facet of a person’s identity and that information you post up is similar to being part of a phone book or walking down the street. Recently there have been a few things which made me reflect upon how internet privacy and anonimity on the web still has some importance.
Blizzard Vs. The Hordes:
Earlier Blizzard Corp makers of World of WarCraft, Diablo and Star Craft announced the implementation of a RealID system which they planned to put into place for the upcoming Star Craft 2 title and later across their entire library of games. The idea behind real ID was that users could interact and be more connected to their friend lists within these games. Blizzard had to later pull back on this initiative because of the massive backlash from their communities and it is now an optional feature rather than being enforced system wide.
When everyone has a Facebook account why would gamers be concerned about revealing their personal information in game? Well for some its a sense of escape, it takes them away from their day to day lives as described in an editorial from Daniel Lipscombe titled Why I play games: My Escapism . Gaming is a way to become separate from day to day activities. If you attach your real name to characters in game or within discussion of the game is that separation still there? Also if a character named “Princess Peach” decked out in pink is suddenly attached to a user named Joe Blow can this person still act out the characteristics of that character? (Ok extreme example but you get the point!) Despite all of this openness on social sites such as Facebook, anonimity is still sought in the gaming world because once you form your character you can be a different person than yourself. When that character suddenly has your name it changes that aspect of the game.
The Anonymous Internet
With the ability to act (almost) completely anonymous online a certain mob mentality can often sink in within a group of like minded users sometimes with negative consequences.
Jessi Slaughter AKA Kerligirl13 an 11 year old from the U.S. enjoyed sharing her life and her interests on YouTube like many vloggers. As video views increased on her channel she began to see negative comments and she reacted much like any 11 year old girl would with a reactionary video. This video to haters with the infamous line “I’ll pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy” went viral and attracted the wrong type of attention. So much so that her and her family are now under police protection .
A large cause of this problem is a site called 4chan. Now I won’t go into much details about the site or its users (because they scare the hell out of even me…) but as a group they have been known for creating false rumors about Steve Jobs having a heart attack (and causing Apple stock to take a tumble) and rigging the Time Magazine 2008 most influential person poll to be Christopher Poole aka Moot the founder of the site. Essentially this site with its large and anonymous user base is able to cause a lot of trouble when motivated to do so.
Upon seeing the video from Jessi ,4chan users decided to take it upon themselves to teach this girl a ‘lesson’ through harassing phone calls and vandalism of social media profiles among other things. While what this little girl has said online is absolutely inappropriate for a girl her age to be saying at all, harassing her and her family is even worse. With the growing ease of finding personal information online it is easy to announymously contact another person and do actions to them to the point of harassment. Kids especially not knowing the expansiveness of the internet and the consequences of being online are now increasingly at risk of receiving abuse online and without fully understanding could be sharing all sorts of personal information with perfect strangers on the web.
With younger age groups being at such risk online its very easy to say that they should be protected but the harder thing to answer is how? No matter what restrictions are put in place there will be work arounds. Age restrictions on sites are easily lied to and parental controls are almost easily turned off as well. When others can act anonymously and manipulate your own information how can be protect those who are just learning about the full expanse of the web?
Creating Online Persona’s
In the end I think managing your online self is becoming just as important as managing yourself offline. We all are visible online, its as easy as a quick google search so we need to ensure that only what we want people to see is visible. I think we also have to remember that our anonymous selves aren’t completely anonymous either. Comments or accounts that you think you made in private can still be potentially tracked back to you.
Having these online persona’s bring on new problems like cyber bullying and identity theft and for good and for bad put us in front of a more global audience. For now I’ll remain more careful of what I place online and will continue to watch how things develop.
Do you have a question or comment ? Feel free to reach me at @kevrichard or firstname.lastname@example.org