Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cyber-Bullying, Sexual Predators and Internet Anonymity

While doing research for Internet safety I came across an interesting current topic regarding internet anonymity. Anonymous society such as living in a large city has created conditions for many social ills that most of us would rather not have. Few would argue against that living in Mayberry with Andy Griffith has its perks with regard to setting and enforcing social and moral norms. You can't afford to be an outcast in a place where everybody knows your name, while having the whole community watch your back can be an advantage.

Though much cyber-bullying is done on social networks between parties that know each other and know each others pseudonyms there is a lot that goes on between strangers as well. Sexual predators need to be anonymous. Recently both Google+ and Facebook have been discussing having users use "real" names:

One point of all of this is that some people think that people would be more responsible with what they say, post and publish if they had to use their real names. Here are some issues as I see it.
  • The "real" looking names still don't have to be your real name. You can use something that appears to be a real name but there is no check for validity.
  • Having minors use real names goes against all Internet safety conventions.

In reading some comments on the above articles I have the following propositions.
  • A "Certified Me" service and logo that guarantees that you are who you say you are. This of course would be a voluntary thing for people to do (and not government controlled). It would act much like "Certified Organic" or "100% Juice". (I am assuming the Certified Me servers will be ultra secure since they hold your real information.) (Perhaps an existing service like OpenID, Verisign or Paypal could start this.)
  • People who really want to know who you are could request information from you via an anonymous email address like Craigslist uses when you reply. You could choose to respond or not (and of course the person you are responding to has an anonymous address as well.)
  • Certified Me service would under court order, reveal the identity details to the court of those involved with documented criminal charges related to and under the name of a "Certified Me" user. In reality, this condition is what would keep Certified Me posts and publications reliable and law abiding.
  • Internet services and accounts would give you the option of using either your screen name or your "Certified Me". When posting on Twitter or Facebook you could choose which byline you want to use. You can choose to let people know that this is me and I stand by what I just said. 
Having a "Certified Me" service could accomplish a few things. It could increase the reliability of the information that is being published or at least help set your own criteria for what you accept as reliable. After being informed, minors would at once know if someone they are chatting or communicating with is real or is hiding in anonymity.

The anonymous Internet certainly has its advantages for many things and I plan to continue using it. Knowing for certain that there are real people behind some of what is out there could also have its advantages. What do you think? I know this opens a big can of worms and might be a lot more complex than what I described, but is it an idea worth considering?

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