Interesting piece in The Independent about the battle over the right to remain anonymous online – especially as waged in World of Warcraft recently. That’s not a world I have ever ventured into, but many many have, and, as Rhodri Marsden sets out:
Female players were particularly concerned, very aware that revealing their gender could invite unwanted attention from the kind of men who spend long hours sitting indoors seeking the Reins Of The Bronze Drake within the Caverns of Time. Some respondents during the ensuing 2,000-page discussion on this topic dared to suggest that privacy wasn’t really an issue, but they were forced to eat their words when a Blizzard employee, after revealing his real name in defence of the system, suddenly found his phone number, address, details of his parents, siblings and spouse, and even pictures of his childhood home posted online by Warcrafters trying to make a point.
He goes on to quote comic artist John Gabriel’s ‘Greater Internet F****** Theory‘, which runs that Normal Person + Web Anonymity + Audience = …. well, let’s say ‘idiot’, to keep it for a family audience.
This highlights again the paradox of online presences: we have the potential to be more ‘ourselves’ because we don’t have the pressure of others watching us, but we are also able to be incredibly stupid and cruel for the same reason.
Interestingly, this paradox is nothing new. The screened off confessional has always been a place both where people can unload and be honest about what they have done, but also open up some of their darker desires, and we can see this duality in the way it has functioned as a place in cinema and literature.
Indeed, one could argue that the robes of the priest, which are meant to anonymise them, also bring the twin dangers of increased honesty and increased indiscretion, and that Gabriel’s theory works for any ‘masked performers’ whether ministers, comics, puppeteers or musicians.
Once again, we have to evolve to live with it. Rather than turning off the web, or demanding everyone is unmasked, we need to learn new social skills of how to deal with anonymous commenters, online flaming and general idiocy.
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