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The era of online anonymity as default may be coming to an end

If you’re in any way connected to World of Warcraft, you may have heard about a controversy that’s been kicking around over an attempt to tie accounts publicly to real names. Amongst all the “anonymity is a right!” stuff, this quote stood out for me:

“A few years ago I’d have said this was impossible. A person’s right to keep their online existence separate to their “real life” was not questioned, and in many cases considered a necessary defence against real-life enemies like draconian hiring managers who don’t understand that weird Internet thing. Nowadays the overwhelming success of Facebook suggests that the bulk of Internet denizens don’t care if their their real names are splashed across The Googles, and don’t care that their on– and offline lives are hopelessly intertwingled.”

I think there’s something in this. Just as “ordinary” users don’t seem to give two hoots for the lack of hackability of platforms like the iPad and iPhone, so people who’ve grown up with Facebook care much less about online anonymity as the norm.

There are, of course, occasions when you want to be anonymous online, or to adopt a separate persona, for perfectly good reasons. But except for rare occasions where you want to discuss something that needs to be private – and we can all think of good examples – why not put your name against something?

It reminds me of The WELL’s saying that “you own your own words”. To me, owning your own words doesn’t just mean that you retain the copyright on them: it means that you stand behind them, and accept that your words may have consequences on real people.

Standing behind your words, owning them and the consequences they have on others, is part of adult communication. And it’s time that communication on the Internet grew up a little.

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