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Respect your Internet anonymity – because we’re not all so lucky

editorofomega Apr. 1, 2014 Op-Ed 2 Comments

Sean Brady, Copy/Web Editor Ω

Sean Brady, Copy/Web Editor Ω

Sean Brady, Copy/Web Editor Ω

The Internet has given us a number of incredible things, but chief among them is probably the opportunity to be a voice with unlimited reach. Couple this with other perks like anonymity, and there’s no limit as to what can be said and who can hear it.

But hand in hand with this amazing ability we’ve granted ourselves should be the self-restraint to use it responsibly.

It wasn’t responsible use when racism, sexism and outright creepiness were the topics of choice by anonymous authors on the TRU Confessions Facebook group. We’ve got to be better than this. We’ve got to respect our access to Internet anonymity.

There’s a harsh looming truth about the Internet no one wants to talk about: anonymity isn’t going to last forever. You can already see our lawmakers chipping away at it in what some would call subversive ways. There is hope, though. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has consistently spoken out against Internet censorship and legislation that would impinge our digital rights.

The BCCLA took particular issue with Bill C-30, otherwise known as the how-can-you-possibly-be-against-this name of “The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.” The civil liberties group called the bill a “Trojan horse” which only intends to revive online surveillance measures. Bill C-30 died, but some of its provisions live on in Bill C-13, now framed by a similar digital conundrum, the one that sparked this column: cyberbullying. But it’s unclear whether or not the true and only intent of C-13 is to prevent cyberbullying.

Looking at legislation like this, it’s important to understand what we might be giving up.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization entirely dedicated to protecting digital civil liberties, often quotes this excerpt from a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio:

“Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views … Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation … at the hand of an intolerant society.”

This isn't even the first time Turkey has taken to protests over attempts to control Internet access. Ian Brown/Flickr Commons

This isn’t even the first time Turkey has taken to protests over attempts to control Internet access. Ian Brown/Flickr Commons

And if you’re somehow questioning the power of the Internet and anonymity, you need only to look at what’s happening in Turkey. Following claims of corruption and apparent leaks of evidence, which spread on sites like Twitter and YouTube, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wasn’t all too happy with what people were saying about him, so he decided to block the sites from citizens. The block was almost immediately bypassed, however, when Turkish citizens began using Google’s Domain Name System instead of the one provided by their Internet service provider. Now that, too, has been blocked, according to a March 29 blog post by Google engineer Steven Carstensen.

The digital battle that Turkish citizens are now undertaking, simply in order to communicate, is one we should hope we never have to fight. It’s also one we should try to understand when we consider our own use of an anonymous Internet. Do we really want to waste it by ranting about classmates, sexually demeaning other students and spreading hate?

I know that we don’t, but this is where anonymous discussion on the Internet invariably goes – towards what we don’t really want to say. Let’s try to change that by respecting each other and remembering what it means to wield such a powerful tool.

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