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Argh! Another Facebook Zuckerberg Wants to Kill Off Anonymity

Aug 03, 20115 mins
Data and Information SecurityFacebookMicrosoft

Facebook's marketing director Randi Zuckerberg, sister to Mark, has joined the ranks of tech giants calling for an end to online anonymity and pseudonyms.

After the mass Google bannings over pseudonyms, Facebook’s marketing director Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has now announced that “anonymity on the Internet has to go away.”

The HuffPost reported that during a round table discussion hosted by Marie Claire magazine, Zuckerberg gave her opinion on how to stop cyberbullying and online harassment.

I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.

The EFF wants you to stop and think about that for a minute.

Randi Zuckberg doesn’t just think that you should be using your real name on Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn — she thinks pseudonyms have no place on the Internet at all. And why should we take the radical step of stripping all Internet users of the right to speak anonymously? Because of the Greater Internet F***wad Theory, or the “civility argument,” which states: If you allow people to speak anonymously online, they will froth at the mouth, go rabid, bully and stalk one another. Therefore, requiring people to use their real names online should decrease stalking and bullying and generally raise the level of discourse.

Like Schmidt, two Zuckerbergs now have voiced their beliefs that there is no room on the web for anonymity. In real life situations, most folks don’t walk around with a name tag plastered on their chest. For example, if you are in a public gathering and someone voices an opinion, you don’t know that person’s name unless you actually know that person. You can ask their name, but it’s not automatically known. In the mall, or even walking on a sidewalk, if some guy whistles at you or if a group “cat calls,” you don’t immediately have access to their real names either. While some people might like that sort of thing, some people might not. Just as on the Internet, you can almost count on the fact that someone will not like whatever you say in a comment or in a post and exercise their free speech right to say so. Is it really a good idea to strip away anonymity and replace it with real identities when there are plenty of people in the cyberworld who are totally unbalanced and capable of taking that argument from the digital world to up-close and personal in the real world? What about activists? Real identities and real names would make it mighty handy for government surveillance.

When Mark Zuckerberg claimed “Anonymity is authenticity,” 4Chan founder Moot said, “Mark Zuckerberg has kind of equated anonymity with a lack of authenticity, almost a cowardice, and I would say that’s fully wrong. I think anonymity is authenticity, it allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way and I think that’s something that’s extremely valuable.”

Previously Microsoft Partner Architect Marc Davis talked of the Web of the World where “every piece of data on the Internet maps back to who created it and who they know. Where they were when they did it, where they’ve been and where they plan to go. What they are interested in, attend to, and interact with, and is around them, and when they do these things.” Davis suggested that your personal data could be traded as currency in the digital world.

On Facebook or Google Plus, where people must use real names, have you been monetarily compensated for that collection of your personal data? No and unless something radical happens to make Davis’ vision a reality, you won’t collect some form of digital currency for your online data connected to your real name. We all have good days and bad days when things that might normally roll off our backs, do not. Instead it ticks us off and something stupid is said offline or online. The real name rule could make Schmidt’s prediction a reality. He said that, in the future, all kids would likely change their legal name to avoid a connection with that identity which posted embarrassing photos or comments on social networking sites like Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s argument to stop cyberbullying by doing away with digital anonymity could open the door to bullying and stalking in real life. There’s usually a reason people choose anonymity. In the cyber world, you can choose to “die” and become yet another alias. In the real world, it’s unlikely people would up and move, change their name, after some especially troll-like comment set off another person who might be a bit unbalanced and physically come after you. It could swing the other way, not an angry stalker but one who is way too enamored of you. That’s doesn’t mean you want that digital person tracing your real identity and to come knocking on your door. Would all gamers then start using real names as well? Think hunting down digital folks in real life to extract some kind of “justice” doesn’t happen? It does.

Where do you draw the line in killing off anonymity? For every bit of good it would do, there is an equal bit of harm it could do. Ripping away pseudonyms is a stupid idea.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.