The Connection Between Anonymity and Nastiness in the Online World

After reading Jim’s announcement that Discover Magazine has opened its archives of completed issues back to 1992, I took a look around. I spotted a more recent article “Jaron’s World: Sex, Drugs and the Internet” (yes, even with 15 years of archives, I only managed to go back a whole week).

The article’s thesis, that “today’s outbreaks of nasty online behavior are directly linked to the history of the counterculture in America, and in particular to the war on drugs”, is meant to shock, and of course, makes more sense once you read the article. After thinking about my own recent post re: Digg, I particularly liked this paragraph.

People who can spontaneously invent a pseudonym in order to post a comment on a blog or on YouTube are often remarkably mean. Buyers and sellers on eBay are usually civil, despite occasional annoyances like fraud. Based on those data you could propose that transient anonymity coupled with a lack of consequences is what brings out online idiocy. With more data, the hypothesis can be refined. Participants in Second Life (a virtual online world) are not as mean to each other as people posting comments to Slashdot (a popular technology news site) or engaging in edit wars on Wikipedia, even though all use persistent pseudonyms. I think the difference is that on Second Life the pseudonymous personality itself is highly valuable and requires a lot of work to create. So a better portrait of the culprit is effortless, ­consequence-free, transient anonymity in the service of a goal, like promoting a point of view, that stands entirely apart from one’s identity or personality. Call it drive-by anonymity.

I’ve been talking about this concept in regards to academic integrity and plagiarism during some recent workshops. I brought up the idea of “(Inter)Net Circumstance”, the idea that a discontinuity of self raises certain problems for online behaviour such as plagiarism, (illegal) music downloading, software cracks, innappropriate commenting/flaming, sexual harassment … things that individuals would not do normally in face-to-face, “real” situations. From this, we discussed the idea of integrity as wholeness, a single sense of self across a wide-range of circumstances, including virtual circumstances.

The concept raised by this article, drive-by anonymity, is (in practice) familiar to many of us. However, I believe we all need to better understand this issue as it relates to integrity. Let’s raise the issue with our students and colleagues.

Update: Francois points to an interesting Globe and Mail article that covers this same topic. Thanks!

The Show With Ze Frank Last Episode This Week

I’ve posted about The Show several times in the past year. It appears, “as Ze promised, ke’s keeping hte show to a one-year run, which expires on the 17th.”

The Show appears to have had a huge, and diverse fan base. It has featured some really interesting, engaging projects/hooks such as:
Fabuloso Chess (Ze playing chess against the Sports Racers” (viewers),
Remixes for Ray (creating remixes, album covers, video, from a short .mp3 from a once anonymous viewer named Ray)
The Earth Sandwich Project (connecting with others around the world to create an earth sandwich – bread on opposite sides of the globe)

The content of the Ze Frank show was not always educationally appropriate. However, the innovative format and hooks provided helped me to understand how a wide, diverse audience could be brought together around some common themes, and were able to engage and identify in the content and the community. I’ll miss The Show, and I’m not alone.

Scribd – “The Youtube of Text Documents”

I noticed Scribd, a tool for sharing text documents, in a recent TechCrunch article. It’s being touted as “the Youtube of text”. So I thought I would give it a shot and see how it handles a larger document. I uploaded my recent dissertation to the site. You should see it below.

There are several neat options. When I uploaded the document, it was converted to .doc, .pdf (kind of), .txt and even .mp3 (yes an audio file). I didn’t notice any open formats, however.

I think it choked on this document. The PDF conversion didn’t really work. The other conversions were pretty much what I expected. I may try it with a few other documents, as it does look promising in some ways.

Update: Yea, when I went to look at how it was embedded into this post, it doesn’t seem to work. Likely, the document is too big. This obviously has serious implications for the usefulness of the service. I’ll leave it up for now, maybe one of the Scribd people will find this and offer an explanation. Here’s another URI to the document that may be more useful than the embed code.

Youtube Banned In Victoria (AU) To Halt Cyberbullying

Youtube Ban Comic

VICTORIA has banned student access to video-sharing websites such as YouTube in the 1600 state schools, in a bid to tackle the growing problem of cyber bullying.”

Wow. I think I’ve done over 30 cyberbullying presentations for the university, schools, law enforcement and teacher associations. I have spoken to affected parties, parents, bullies and victims. Sometimes, the cases were severe. Yet, with all that I know about this topic, and with my knowledge of Web 2.0 and social technologies, I could never stand behind a decision to ban these media forms and technologies from our schools. It’s blind decision-making that is clearly not getting to the heart of the problem.

One of my students recently pointed out that cyberbullying is simply an imitated form of mass media. Take Britney’s recent breakdown and all of the media coverage that it has provoked. You can already purchase “Rehab Britney” on eBay. If we are going to ban Youtube, why not ban mass media while we are at it. Or let’s just continue to pretend that both grassroots and mainstream forms of media don’t exist once a student leaves the sheltered walls of school.

How about a little critical media literacy for these administrative folks.

Update: I noticed that Joan Vinall-Cox made almost this same point a couple of weeks ago. Her post is worth a read.