The evolution of the online identity
Published 5:05 pm, Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Years ago, during the burgeoning days of the Internet, many people were reluctant to use their real name online. Fast forward to 2012 and more than 500 million people have Facebook profiles with a timeline of their life on full display for many to access. When did the secret identity become uncovered and is it a positive move?
New Canaan resident Fred Chang is well known around town for voicing his opinions on the issues. But even someone with a strong voice like Chang can feel threatened thanks to the advent of technology.
In early 2011, Chang did not support the Main Street sidewalks initiative, which became a very divisive issue in town. His comments were brought up online in a local online media forum.
More InformationBy the numbers 15 percent of Americans have never checked their social networking privacy and security account settings. --National Cyber Security Alliance-MacAfee Online Safety Study, 2011 69 percent of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social networking sites, however, 88 percent of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social networking site. 12 percent of teens say they witnessed cruel behavior "frequently" on social networking sites. 15 percent of social media-using teens say they have been the target of online meanness. 65 percent of social media-using teens have had an experience on a social networking site that made them feel good about themselves. 58 percent of social media-using teens have felt closer to another person because of an experience on a social networking site. 41 percent of social media-using teens have experienced at least one negative outcome as a result of using a social networking site. -- Pew Research Center, FOSI, Cable in the Classroom, 2011
"There were two comments on Patch (the local online media publication owned by AOL) identifying me by name and I recall one comment was referring to Fred Chang having access to a sidewalk near his home," Chang said. "The person pointed out that he knew where he lived. That person was pro-sidewalk. The other comment was a from a guy on Richmond Hill Road and told me to bug off. I made known the fact that I had contacted the FBI and the state police and had forwarded all the necessary information."
Chang said it was a frightening moment for him because it meant a stranger, or at least someone with no discernible online identity, knew where he lived. Chang has since stopped making comments online
"I discontinued making online comments because I take things personally," he said. "If a person is identified by their real name online, then it is personal."
But that was not always the case. When the Internet first became popular, there was a push to hide your real identity, which changed with the advent of social media.
"The Internet has become has become a so-called garbage dump where some people just want others to know certain things and it has become a meaningless forum for meaningless information," Chang said. "There is no standard. If you get an instrument like the Internet where people can hide behind computers then unless the FBI or the state police gets involved, people can just hide. We see it in schools and workplaces and cyberbullying. Anyone can click and manipulate images on Facebook. I think it's gotten out of control and I personally feel threatened by the uncontrolled storage and dissemination of personal information online."
Farhad Manjoo, of Slate.com, prefers that anonymity was something that thrived only in the beginning of the Internet boom.
"Anonymity has long been hailed as one of the founding philosophies of the Internet, a critical bulwark protecting our privacy," he said. "But that view no longer holds. In all but the most extreme scenarios -- everywhere outside of repressive governments -- anonymity damages online communities. Letting people remain anonymous while engaging in fundamentally public behavior encourages them to behave badly. Indeed, we shouldn't stop at comments," Manjoo said. "Web sites should move toward requiring people to reveal their real names when engaging in all online behavior that's understood to be public -- when you're posting a restaurant review or when you're voting up a story on Reddit, say. In almost all cases, the web would be much better off if everyone told the world who they really are."
Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, believes anonymity is simply a product of tradition and the evolution of the Internet, thanks to social media, will eventually stray from that concept.
"Anonymity is just the way things are done. It's an accepted part of the Internet, but there's no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments," Huffington told The New York Times in 2010. "I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity."
Statistics show cyber crimes are increasing day by day as the landscape of social media and the Internet continue to change, according to the nonprofit organization Enough is Enough, and it poses a danger for those who use social media, especially kids.
"Kids are going to post photos and personal information," Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said. "At least they should be aware of the risks. At least they should use the privacy tools built into the sites to keep people they don't know from accessing their information and their data. And at least moms and dads should learn about what they are doing."
"People go on the site; they share photos of themselves and their friends. Maybe they went on a trip somewhere and they put pictures up about it. They blog about it -- meaning they talk about it. They have comments on their pictures that people leave and they look for other friends," Nigam said. "They can explore content, comedy, movies, bands ... so not only is it about users putting information on the site; it's also getting information on the site."
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