June 22, 2011

Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone - NYTimes.com [12:17 pm]

This article went up a couple of days ago, Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone [pdf], but now there’s also a discussion that’s worth a look. Maybe not earth-shattering, but at least it acknowledges that there are a lot of eddies in this particular swirl of internet technology and policy:

Not too long ago, theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived.

Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies.

The discussions:

  • The Virtues of Anonymity; Daniel J. Solove [pdf]

  • The Rage of Being Right; Philip Smith [pdf]

  • Promoting Repression; Kashmir Hill [pdf]

  • The Glue of Civility; Christine Pearson [pdf]

  • Practicing Self-Regulation; Peggy Post [pdf]

The Smith–Post axis of discussion is notable, and I am generally surprised by the frequent excuse in these articles that incivility is (mostly) thoughtless. (And Hill inelegantly raises the very important issue of what it means to delegate the interpretation of civility to institutions.)

The way I see it, the very root of incivility is almost always thoughtlessness. “Conscious incivility” evokes something entirely different — consider your likely responses to these two common situations: (1) Being cut off in traffic by an inattentive driver and (2) Hearing the car horn of the vehicle immediately behind you the split second the traffic light changes from red to green, possibly accompanied by a rude gesticulation by the driver. The first is incivility, the second is an act of aggression.

(Note that there *are* cultural referents that can matter. In Morocco, the second act listed is, in fact, common practice, because the car at the head of the line at a red light is expected to have pulled far enough into the intersection that the car’s driver can’t even see the traffic light — there, the honk of the horn is a practical requirement of all courteous drivers.)

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