This is another one of those issues I haven’t made up my mind about. Last week I mentioned an effort to create an IP-masking technology for use in Iran (and presumably other countries that don’t allow their citizens free speech). In a country where blasphemy is a crime and people are imprisoned for political opposition, there is a need to protect people who have unpopular ideas from state punishment. However, on the other side of the argument, I’m a firm believer in people standing behind their ideas rather than making anonymous assaults on others and then retreating into cyberspace. Imagine how quickly hate speech would disappear if people knew who was making it.
That appears to be the same problem that Blizzard is grappling with:
But despite the large population, MMORPG players, more so than members of almost any online community, expect their identities to remain hidden, largely due to the social stigma attached to playing such games — but also for fear of real-world retribution for World of Warcraft -realm actions.
The actions the article refers to concern the fate of one Micah Whipple, a moderator on an online forum who, in support of company policy, dropped his anonymity online. Immediately personal details about him, including his home address and phone number, were mined from social networking sites and other open-source documents and posted online. This is illustrative of the vehemence with which the online community wishes to preserve its members’ individual freedoms.
While I can appreciate the intent of the company to reduce forum trolling:
I think my inclination tends to fall on the side of anonymity. While we do have free speech protections in this part of the world, that protects us from legal action and reprisal only. What it doesn’t protect is the identity of a teen who is reaching out to the LGBT community for guidance on how to come out to his parents. It doesn’t protect an atheist living in a Christian-dominated city, for whom an admission of non-belief would affect her job and community standing. It certainly doesn’t protect someone whose political opinions run contrary to those of their neighbours.
It may still be necessary to protect online anonymity, at least for now. Some technoprophets are predicting that anonymity will become a quaint affectation of yesteryear, like a woman identifying herself as Mrs. (Husband’s full name). What the Blizzard experiment has revealed is that while that time may in fact come, it’s not here yet.
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