May 15, 2018

Anonymity - The Changing Face of the Internet

I started this post a long time ago. In fact I'm fairly sure the original draft predates this iteration of the site altogether. Unfortunately I lost my train of thought and never quite got around to tracing it back again. But with it having been almost two months since I posted anything, I thought there was no better time to dig this back up.

I've been online in some way, shape, or form since I was nine. That's a few days short of nineteen years. So, I'm a little too young (due to a lack of understanding at the time rather than anything else) to have been around for the solid IRC days, but I was very much there for the whole going-by-a-pseudonym era of the internet. At some point all of the big social media giants decided that this wasn't okay anymore, and several governments have since implemented laws to the effect of "you must go by your own name online". But of course this wasn't the end of the world, because you weren't doing anything bad online to justify using a fake name anyway, you were just doing it because everybody was. It's fair to say I didn't "get" the hubbub when the backlash against this change happened, but it's fair to say I've got a much better understanding of this sentiment in recent years.

Before I elaborate, I'll do my usual primer again: I was always told that if you want to make it as a creative, a published author for instance, you need to take your political views and shove them deep down in the dark where nobody can see them. You can't risk making comments about one view or another view, because either way you've alienated perhaps half of the people with the opposing view (only half because not everybody refuses to consume media from their political opponents). So, the obvious outlet for talking about your political views is in the safe anonymity of the internet. I won't get too far into how much this doesn't work now, between tracking cookies and writing style analysers and a whole host of other methods through which you will be found out, as these are irrelevant for this discussion.

What I want to say is that I, and anybody else who holds a view not considered to be the status quo, have effectively lost the ability to talk shop without potentially finding themselves in hot water. Status quo doesn't mean the majority view, of course, because I don't hold any particularly abhorrent views that would cause someone to cross the street to avoid me, or anything like that. No, the status quo in this situation is any view held by the kinds of people whose only recourse when discovering opinions they disagree with is to dox and straw-man their way into a coma. Google is infected with these kinds of people from the ground up, as evidenced by the admittedly tactless Google Memo incident. Facebook lives and breathes them, as you can be banned for liking dark jokes and comments years after the fact, or simply for the (active and allowed) groups you are a part of. And Twitter recently had their line in the sand moment where they stated they would ban people based on their activity on other sites.

It was around that time that I deleted my pseudonym accounts used to talk politics on Twitter, Reddit, and Youtube, because knowing that there are groups of people that will do everything they can to find out where you work and get you fired didn't gel well with having gotten a new job that I actually liked having. I enjoyed the conversation, I enjoyed the consequence free argument, but it wasn't worth it. And isn't that a ridiculous position to be put in? If this level of control and monitoring isn't proof that anonymity needs to be held in higher regard, then what is?

One person very much affected by this sort of thing was Jordan Peterson, who had his Google account revoked when he began to speak up about his views. Now, Peterson is a controversial figure for sure, but he did nothing except talk, and refuse to step back in line when challenged. There are many accounts I could stand to lose and barely bat an eye-- I barely look at Twitter when I'm not checking what's trending or promoting myself, I would love the excuse to stop using Facebook, and Reddit accounts are a dime a dozen. But you know an account that would properly fuck my shit up? My Google account. It's where I keep my mail, my documents, my bookmarks, my passwords, my phone backups... heck, my phone. Should the same company that championed the change from anonymity to "real name", and that has such an unprecedented impact on people's lives also be allowed to take their services away when you haven't even breached their terms of service? No. But since they've proven that they can and will, let's all just make sure to be very careful what we say online, eh?

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