There was an interesting discussion in one of my CIS classes this morning regarding anonymity on the web and it brought up some heated debate. I've gauged that half or more of my class is familiar/have been on 4chan and/or are users of Reddit. To a point, this is good to hear as they're avid internet users who probably hold some of the same values as I do regarding the web, coding, everything that 4chan/Reddit can instill on a person.
Strangely, though, there was a debate on anonymity. More specific, this debate was on anonymity being the same as cowardice.
Today, however, I couldn't sit idly by.
My professor brought up the interconnectivity between social media sites and their implications when it comes to how social media sites are used on other sites (such as blogs, forums, etc.). Right away, strong opinions about Twitter and Facebook were brought up: "Who cares what you just had to eat?" "No one wants to know what you're doing," "Facebook is ridiculously insecure." Things of that nature. My professor looked pleased at how much we all were speaking at 9am, when normally he has to beat participation out of us with a stick.
I was half-listening to the debate up until this point. I was busy browsing Twitter and Reddit to really pay attention, but when I heard that last phrase, my ears perked up because what happened next set things off.
So, he pressed us with this: "Say you have a blog Would you rather allow people to comment anonymously or with e-mail verification or with Facebook integration?" The class went apeshit, yet still managed to discuss this topic with intelligence. One guy in my class, we'll call him Chris, began ranting about how anyone can create a Gmail address and how it might as well all be anonymous, save Facebook, because anonymous posts allow people to be as honest as they want.
Here's where the firestorm began.
Another guy in my class (oh, did I mention my CIS class is all guys, save one girl?), we'll call him Dan, turned to the first guy and started talking about how anonymous posting online is cowardly because there are no consequences. Chris tried responding but it was something along the same lines of what he originally said (see above). Dan responded again with more talk of cowardice, and this is when I spoke up.
In a moment of silence where it looked like my professor was waiting for someone else to speak up, I calmly said to Dan, "I completely disagree with you," and he turned around. "Think of it this way: you're the CEO of Google--a major company with huge stakes and investors--but you have a radical view on a hot button topic. Do you jeopardize your company's reputation by speaking out radically and making your investors angry because they don't agree with you, or do you have intelligent debate on an anonymous medium?"
Dan looked at me for a moment and responded that if the radical opinions were actually what I felt, I would have no need to hide them behind anonymity. I responded to him that despite the truth to what he said, speaking radically can ruin your reputation (something I've felt first hand) and as likely as people are to abuse the power of anonymity--Chris cut in by saying "trolling"--speaking anonymously can lead to intelligent, well-informed discussion.
Again, Dan looked at me for a moment, then Chris took the ball again. This time he was talking to the professor about a completely different portion of the topic regarding creating anonymous profiles online.
The discussion ceased there, but it was interesting to see the various viewpoints on it all (well, the two--mine and Dan's). I had a quick moment of reflection on past mistakes of posting things online with my name attached--you know, losing job(s) because of it. I mean, think of your reputation in life and how it's tied to your online world. Would you say your Twitter or Facebook accounts represent you well? Would you rather that some of the things you've said online weren't attached to your name?
All of this has been swirling in my head since this morning. Just thought I'd share.