The good sense of Web anonymity

Twitter gets it... Why doesn't anyone else?

Technology trends and news by Nathan Pensky
September 20, 2011
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There is an old adage that originated from a 1993 cartoon caption that said: "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." The cartoon came to symbolize the unnerving aspects of Internet life - people could interact with general anonymity.

But as we've moved toward more stringent rules around user verification over the last 15 years, we've lost a little bit of the innocuous benefits of being unknown.

Twitter seems to understand this well. One important benefit concerning Twitter's social networking anonymity is that social networking anonymity should be recognized in its capacity to actually encourage actual socializing, which after all is the point.

Of course, it is also a neutral quality, leaving the ebb and flow of ideas (and the accompanying flow of advertising dollars) unscathed, regardless of their being connected to real names. This point was made well by GigaOm's Matthew Ingram. His prevailing thesis can be summed with the sentence, "the social web is about reputation and influence, not necessarily names."

Twitter - a 'real' productivity tool

The opportunity Twitter offers to interact with peers in a given work-day is a real benefit to productivty. Flow-charts mapping out workplace efficiency rarely provide for the fact that the interconnectivity offered by the Internet can be severely draining, that an equal capacity to provide ephemeral distraction can serve as a tonic to such influx.

Perhaps more than any other kind of work, office employment needs a release valve for the stresses that come along with being productive, efficient "team players." Stepping away from team mentality, or even associations embedded in one's own true workplace identity, can make all the difference between getting the job done and burning out.

Logging on to Twitter for a quick peek at trending topics or who has RTed your last joke about Charlie Sheen is the digital version of stealing unseen into the courtyard for a cigarette break. Such personal moments, which enable a de-personalization where office identity is concerned, can actually give workers the sanity they need to do their jobs more efficiently.

But without the anonymity of a fake Twitter handle, or at least one not easily Google-able by "the Man," the day's important micro-breaks would not be possible.

Ingram references how the U.S. Congress has proposed beefing up the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, such that "exceeding authorized [computer] access" would carry heftier penalties than ever before. Such infractions would include overstepping a website's terms of use, breaching a given company's workplace rules about internet use, or (you guessed it) creating fake names on Facebook.

A Wall Street Journal article by George Washington University legal scholar Orrin Kerr was cited, where he posited that under these stricter laws, misuse of Facebook could be ruled as a felony.

But Twitter clearly takes a different tack on the necessity of real names in social networking. Internet Culture analystClay Shirkey cited Twitter in his belief that "persistent" pseudonyms are just as good as real names, where social networking concerns actual users. Said Shirkey, "I need to associate who's saying somethiung to me now with previous conversations... If you give users a way of remembering one another, reputation will happen, and that requires nothing more than simple and somewhat persistent handles."

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said in a press event on September 8 that from an advertising standpoint, the targeting of ads toward individual users via keywords likewise doesn't rely on real identities. Said Costolo, Other services say you have to use your real names, because they think they can monetize that better and get more information about you." Twitter could not be reached for immediate comment.

(Image source: Jailbreak Scene)

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