Yes, Online Anonymity Is Hard – But Like Anything Valuable, It Is Worth Fighting For

Gigaom › Mathew Ingram

When it comes to online behavior, some contentious issues have been around at least as long as the consumer internet itself. One of the most explosive of these topics is anonymity, and the alleged benefits or disadvantages of the fact that on the internet — as the New Yorker famously put it in 1993 — no one knows you’re a dog. The popularity of anonymous apps such as Secret has propelled those issues to the forefront once again, and re-ignited the debate over whether the value of anonymous behavior outweighs the risks.

As I’ve written here a number of times before, I believe online anonymity or pseudonymity has substantial value, even though it is arguably to blame for troll-like behavior in blog comments and other forums such as Reddit or 4chan. Much like the internet itself, anonymity is a tool that can be used for good or ill, but I believe we gain more than we lose by allowing it to occur.

That’s not to say anonymity needs to be a free-for-all. There are a number of ways of ensuring that it doesn’t become so, from the technical methods described by Canadian entrepreneur Austin Hill (co-founder of an early online-identity provider called Zero Knowledge) in a recent post to the kind of advice that Anil Dash discussed in a post about internet comments — namely, that we are all responsible in some sense for this kind of behavior.