The Age Of Anonymity

From the day we are born, we have a name – we are given an identity. Something that separates us from the 6,602,224,175 other people currently on this earth; and, if your name isn’t individual enough – you’re one of those ‘John Smith’s’, or the like – birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, drivers license numbers, all set us apart from the guy next to us. The experts on this stuff, whoever they are, call these bits of information PII, that is, Personally Identifiable Information. They are what singles out one from the millions. They are our identity.Yet society’s growing trend is to ditch the age old tradition of the name. It seems anonymity is the new black. No longer does anyone want to be linked to their birth names. Perhaps, like most trends and fads, it started in Hollywood. Pseudonyms are all the rage with the rich and famous – we’ve got P. Diddy (Sean Combs), Eminem (Marshall Mathers), or U2’s Bono, born Paul Hewson.The general public are beginning to like the idea of hiding their identity as well, and there’s nowhere like the internet for people to indulge themselves incognito. Most people are known online by their usernames, also called ‘handles’ or screen names. 
Online, one could become ‘LaughingPirate124’ or ‘Britney_Spears_Rox’, or anything in their wildest dreams. They can create a new identity.But why, besides the ‘follow the crowd’ effect, do people want to hide their names on the internet? What problems do they have with having their name as a username? The answer of many would be ‘security’. They believe they’re protecting themselves from identity fraud, stalkers, and other questionable people who could access the information.While I’m not encouraging a free-for-all release of tax documents, credit card numbers, and medical records on the net, I have a problem with people scared of disclosing their name. Despite sensationalised media reports, no one can steal your identity with just a name. They need much more than that. Giving out your name doesn’t pose any serious security risk. It just seems, whatever we tell ourselves, we like to be nameless.This is shown in our behaviour on the roads. Hiding behind the facade of our vehicles, much like guests at a masquerade ball, we drive around, content in the knowledge that no-one knows who we really are. The driver honking his horn loudly, tailgating, cutting off other cars, or participating in other acts of road rage, feel as if, behind his strongly tinted windows no-one knows who he really is. He could be a respectable, high up executive, but sitting in the anonymity of a car, he feels he no longer needs to take responsibility for his actions. Road rage incidents are so high, because people relish the freedom and power that comes with anonymity.I think in that last sentence we’ve found the root of this trend to be anonymous: we don’t have to take responsibility for anything. No-one knows who they are, so therefore there can be no consequences. A ‘pro-anonymity’ website sums up this idea people have quite scarily:

“If you have a name, you can be found. You can be hunted and sought out and brought down… But if you are Anonymous, you are forever elusive, invisible, and unstoppable. You are invincible. You are god.”1

We see this attitude everywhere: hoax and prank calls, angry callback radio listeners. We see it in amount of nighttime crime – criminals seek the darkness as a source of anonymity – just like their balaclavas. They don’t want to be held accountable.We’re fine with our names in the telephone book, but we tremble with fear at the thought of our name being online. Why? Perhaps it’s because our name in the phone book isn’t linked with our actions. It’s just a name, sitting there. It has no opinions, it makes no nasty comments, it doesn’t shout abuse, it’s just your name. Online, however, it’s a different matter. Our name becomes linked with our online activity. Our actions can therefore directly impact our reputations, and we can be held accountable – and that’s what we’re scared of.So grow up. Take responsibility for your actions, online or otherwise. Don’t post a comment behind your anonymous username. Don’t yell abuse from behind your anonymous windshield. The invisibility of anonymity is fake. In reality, all it is cowardice. Be accountable, not anonymous.


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