There are politicians trying to eliminate anonymity on the net. That’s a very, very dangerous game to play. Beside the fact that it will always be easily circumvented when people know they need to be anonymous, the danger lies in when people don’t think of that need.
Every day, we say things that we wouldn’t say in other contexts. We react to news with WTF-type blurts, we react to stupid politicians and greedy bankers with emotional statements.
These statements are all-too-frequently social glue rather than intended to be taken at face value. More importantly, they are transient — they disappear as soon as they are spoken or heard. Would you really be comfortable if everything, everything, you said was recorded, permanently archived, and made searchable?
That’s where these politicians would have us.
It’s the equivalent of a police arrest in the United States, where you are told — very seriously — that “Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law“. What happens? Well, most people take the hint and shut up completely.
Now, imagine if it wasn’t just a court of law as in the arrest scenario, but that anybody that could see anything you had ever said. Future employers, dates, law enforcement… not just in your own country or state, but also for every place you’ll ever visit in the future with different laws. Also, imagine that this holds true for the rest of your life, with the laws undergoing change in the next 60 years or whatever number of years you have left, and imagine what you say today is going to be repainted in the light of 60 years from now. (There was nothing said in 1941 which was common knowledge and social glue then, but which would be terribly embarrassing and a complete block-out if found today, was there?)
It would become practically impossible to say… anything remotely challenging. At least if you wanted a future. You may still talk about the weather.
True, there are some limits to who can see what you say today. There is a “share with friends” limit. But it is getting recorded, all of it, and it has your name to it. Down the line, this may become public. Or it may not. Maybe it only becomes available to future employers. The thing is, there is no way to know.
There is no shortage of people who, for instance, react to news of greedy bankers with a blurt-out along the lines of “Bonus!? The only thing this guy deserves is a bullet between the eyes“. This is social glue, and not a literal death threat. So imagine if all of those statements resulted in arrests a few hours later, or was held against the person saying it in the next job interview. That’s where we’re heading if we’re crippling anonymity.
The only way to protect ourselves and free speech is to safeguard the anonymity we enjoy today in the streets when we say something, and the fact that that statement disappears as soon as it is said. As speech moves online, that anonymity must remain, when the transiency doesn’t and everything we say becomes part of a permanent record.