Being on-line and anonymous does not eliminate accountability and responsibility

The Washington Post considers the pluses and minuses of anonymity in the on-line world but typically just stays on the fence. “It’s complicated”. In an abundance of indecision and of  “political correctness” it reaches no conclusion.

But I take a rather simplistic and uncomplicated view. “On-line” is just one more medium through which “publishing” can take place. This medium may be much more immediate and with greater global spread than other media. But whatever the medium may be, responsibility and accountability for what is published cannot just vanish. It cannot just disappear into some black hole between an author and his publisher. Either the publisher or the author must take responsibility and be accountable for whatever is published. The publisher controls the medium. Whether he wishes to allow anonymity or not is his prerogative. But if the publisher (the on-line web-site host) allows his authors to keep their identities secret from the public then he must take responsibility and be accountable for what is published.  It is also then his call as to whether he himself wishes to know the identity of those using the platform he provides. Where, however, the author is publicly identified then the publisher is effectively indemnified.

Where comments (on a blog or a web-site or a forum) are allowed anonymously then applying moderation is the host’s call but he cannot escape the responsibility or the accountability for the content he allows.

Anonymity does not eliminate responsibility and accountability. It merely shifts responsibility from the author to the publisher. The buck has to stop somewhere.

Washington Post: It shields the whistleblower from blowback and the deep-background source from getting deep-sixed. It helped women publish novels way back when . . . when that was a pretty novel idea. But it can also embolden the kook to get kookier and the racist to get . . . well, you get the picture.

….. Fey and Pexton, whose thoughts have gotten the viral launch that only a lengthy discussion on NBC’s “Today” show can provide, veer toward an age-old question. Does anonymity make us good? Or does it make us bad? And now that we’ve had a good long while to get used to splashing around online, there’s another question to ponder: Does the Internet make it easier for us to be anonymously bad or anonymously better?

The answer isn’t so simple. Consider 4Chan, a hugely popular and emphatically anonymous Internet board that began as a place to discuss Japanese anime and has swelled into dozens of boards focused on everything from “science & math” to “Sexy Beautiful Women.”

The site can get raunchy. The posters can get rough with each other. Anonymity has the effect of making the users less inhibited, said Michael S. Bernstein, who studied the site’s “/b/ – random” board with colleagues at MIT and the University of Southampton in Britain. That lack of inhibition has led to plenty of “gore, pornography and racism,” Bernstein, now a computer science professor at Stanford University, said in an interview.

But amid all the offensive behavior, Bernstein and his fellow researchers also found that anonymity had a lot of positive effects. One of the most notable was the creation of a culture that fostered experimentation and new ideas. Since no names were being used, the users felt more comfortable taking risks. They’ve ended up contributing to the creation of an Internet culture and to a proliferation of memes. ….

…. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the respected journal Science, was concerned enough to commission a study that concluded anonymity was something worth striving to preserve. “There was talk at the time about making anonymity difficult or impossible,” said Albert H. Teich, a professor at George Washington University who was director of science and policy programs at AAAS when the study was released.

The scientists wanted the Internet to be a place where political opinions could be expressed freely without fear of repercussions; where, say, a teen struggling to come to grips with his sexuality could discreetly seek advice.

…. Still, he’s torn. Terrorism gives him an argument against anonymity. Protecting contacts who were helping AAAS combat human rights violations in Central America gives him a reason to protect anonymity. …..


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