Wed
Oct 24 2012 11:00am

You Are Not Anonymous: On Internet Privacy and the War On Trolls

You Are Not Anonymous: On Internet Privacy and the War On Trolls

The web has been buzzing over the past several months due to the unmasking of some well-known internet trolls. A large portion of the online community has thrown up their hands in a collective sigh of relief, but a sizable number are enraged – by bringing the names of these people to light, real life identities have been comprised and people’s lives have been altered for the worse. And in the name of privacy, people have picked up their virtual boxing gloves and started winding up the good old one-two punch.

Yet it seems that this anger stems from the internet’s greatest fallacy, one the internet itself has long encouraged: the notion that the world wide web is somehow private in the first place.

“Don't tell anyone your name,” my mother said to me in my early teens. “I heard about these people in chat rooms on the news. Don't tell them your name, or where you live, or how old you are, or what school you go to. Don't tell them anything about you.” And I rolled my eyes and promised I wouldn't because I had never intended to in the first place. Trust me to be a little safer than that.

Fast-forward several years. In college, I joined an online text-based RPG and had a blast. I made friends and we all talked frequently outside the game, emailing each other at length about any number of topics. While we were assured by our moderators that there was never any pressure to share more information about ourselves than made us comfortable, it wasn't long before we all knew each others' names, where we were writing from, and what we did on a day to day basis.

My mother was horrified. “Be careful. You don't know who these people are.”

“Mom,” I assured her, “I really do. It's pretty easy to spot crazy most places on the internet.”

This is not a sad story where I end up stalked and have to change my name and move to another state, bemoaning my lack of foresight. The people I met via this game are real people. They are real, wonderful people who I am very lucky to know. Some of them I'm still in touch with. Some of them I've met in person. No axe murders occurred.

Yet we do guard our privacy on the internet – viciously, in some cases. We are particular about who can view our Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds, who can have our email addresses. I was warned to take caution when I graduated from college; if there were any pictures of me on Facebook sporting a suspicious red plastic cup, I should remove them immediately. In fact, I should remove any pictures that made me look weird at all. Prospective employers might check, or they might get someone to friend me and unearth my whole dirty history. Nothing was safe in this new age of technology. And, in a way, they were right.

Anyone can screen capture your tweets, even if your account is private. Anyone can accidentally forward a very private email to someone you know. Anyone can enter your name into a search engine and likely find out more about your life than you ever knew was available for public access.

Some people are thriving in this age of information. They use the personal nature of the web to market themselves as creators, writers, entrepreneurs, authorities on a variety of subjects. They use the internet and make friends, like I did. They offer up their real names and real information about their lives, and they do it without fear. But there are still many people who have populated the internet with alternate personas. They create avatars and fake names and sometimes even fake opinions. And that supposed anonymity emboldens them to do and say things that they would never express in polite company, to harass others and promote content of a violent or horrific nature. It isn't that every pseudonym on the internet is harboring a troll, but it is the perfect place for a troll to hide. And some don't even bother to go that far – it is so common to see others act without remorse or sensitivity toward faceless users online, that there are those who have no problem being downright abusive to people they have never met, comfortable in a virtual culture that provides no retribution for their actions.

Until now.

When Anita Sarkesian created a Kickstarter to take a look at female tropes in video games for her series Feminist Frequency, many were enthused… and many were not. She was subjected to an onslaught of hate speech from several channels on the internet, her profile on Wikipedia altered with pornographic images. And then one man chose to create a game that allowed people to “punch” her until her picture appeared bloodied and bruised. A women tracked him down (it was relatively easy, since his handles were the same across several websites) and found his Twitter account. She tweeted at the company he was sending a resume to, showing them the game he had created, and let others know that he was responsible. The young man in question received a deluge of criticism from Twitter, and several articles were written on the story. This resulted in a cry of “bullying,” the suggestion that this man's life was being destroyed for expressing his opinion. He closed his Twitter account shortly thereafter.

Gawker very recently unmasked one of the biggest trolls in Reddit's history. The man, who was known to many under the username “Violentacrez,” has now been given a real name and a face, and was fired from his job as a result. The activities this man enjoyed as one of the site's volunteer moderators are too numerous and abhorrent to begin listing, but yet again, people were outraged. It is still being shouted down as “vigilantism,” when, if a similar piece had been published offline, it would probably be chalked up to “investigative journalism.” Reddit went so far as to block all Gawker links from the website, stating that the group had violated one of the primary foundations of Reddit's platform – the right to anonymity.

But how anonymous are we, really? If we make every effort to keep our true names off the internet, if we buy a multitude of security platforms, if we friend-lock every social media site we belong to?

Enter “locate IP address” into Google and the first page of results offers a site where you can find someone's location by entering their IP address. There are YouTube videos that tell you how to find the IP addresses of anyone you email. There are pages that will look up photos of a person based on the name you give them; it's probably only a matter of time before Google creates a function that can map your face in a photo and match it to others. I've looked up the names of family members and come up with local government documents that offer specific details on where they live. And if you've got a friend with some tech savvy, they can likely come up with far more information than I could on one go.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Would you believe me if I told you that it's not necessarily a bad thing? Recently, a man who had been brutally harassed by an internet troll for three full years used this technology to find the person who had made his life hell, day to day. That troll, shockingly, turned out to be the son of a family friend. He was able to meet with this teenaged boy and, by talking with him and his parents, led him to understand the effect his abuse had, and (hopefully) helped him. That boy has the chance to make changes in his life before he goes too far down an incredibly destructive road.

So perhaps this “invasion of privacy” uproar is moot. At the end of the day, whether the current methods of dealing with these problems are right or wrong is an argument that can play out into the ether; it doesn't change how things will actually function now and going forward. You are not anonymous. What you say and do on the internet is being heard loud and clear, by more people than you might ever suspect. If you cannot stand by those activities and convictions “IRL,” then perhaps you've picked the wrong place to hang your hat. The internet is not where you hide – it's where you are found.

Online culture is one of the greatest new frontiers that humanity has produced. It is changing how we communicate and who we can communicate with every minute. And with any luck, one day, it will no longer be rife with the trolling, hate speak, and intimidation that continues to muddy the waters of such an extraordinary meeting ground.

 

Image by OpenSourceWay used through Creative Commons license.


Emily Asher-Perrin loves the internet. A lot. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

64 comments
alastair chadwin
1. a-j
Good article.
To claim that outing and identifying a troll is an assault on free speech is incorrect. The troll can still carry on saying whatever he wants. The issue is about anonymity, which is different.
If you accept that the internet is a public forum, then privacy can only be a right under certain circumstances just as in any public discussion.
That's my pennysworth anyway. And to avoid the potential irony,

yours

Alastair Chadwin
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
Good article. I don't understand troll motivation to begin with and I really don't understand their complaints when they are unmasked. As you said, if someone needs to hide from things they are saying from questionable motives, then maybe they shouldn't be saying them.
Actual anonymity is very useful for political dissidents and others who have legitimate reasons to hide from actual danger. It is also extremely difficult to do correctly.
Jeremy Preacher
3. Jeremy Preacher
I wonder if there's an age gap here - I am just barely too old at 31 to say I grew up with the internet, but the age of "don't tell anyone your name" seems long and long ago (and didn't really work anyway - I didn't, and the name I used instead is now the one on my business cards.) Violentacrez has been described as "middle-aged" so I am assuming he's a fair bit older than me as well.
Thomas Simeroth
4. a smart guy
Look, I agree with what you are saying but there is a huge problem with the new age of non-privacy: trolls finding our information. Trolls can use our personal information to send hate messages to our mailboxes, drop packages at our houses, and generally make our lives miserable. Unfortunately, the average user does not now how to gain more information about their tormentor, which makes them powerless to stop the spammer. Without severe technical knowledge, average joes aren't able to identify trollers. The spread of information is a good thing; however, since only a few people realize this, trolls and hackers are using it to their own advantage.
William Carter
5. wcarter
Some people are rude intentionally start arguments online becauase they think its funny. Those people I can ignore.
Then there are the dangerous trolls, people like that boy in the story. I don't like censorhip. Period. But threats, libel, and other attempts to take away someone's peace of mind about the safety of themselves or their familes is a crime.
When someone like that gets taken down, it's not 'an invasion of privacy', it's justice. Plain and simple.
TW Grace
6. TWGrace
This reminds me of an incident a few years back (i want to say it was during the whole racefail bs) when the real name of livejournal blogger was outed...

I dont remember much in the way of "you arent private on the internet" . B ack then, It was more along the lines of "how dare you out somebody on the internet if they want to be anymouze"
Steven Halter
7. stevenhalter
sidenote::Hey, cool. This article prompted me to look at my profile and I see that you can edit your username now. So, see I'm now stevenhalter instead of shalter. I had been wanting to do that.
Douglas Freer
8. Futurewriter1120
I agree on exposing trolls that harrass people. The way I see it though is that these liars are just like the con men of yesteryear. And with the 'privacy' of the net, they think they can get away with it. Lots of people are dumb enough to think that because 'That's how they show it in the movies'. Personally I don't mind sharing information as long as it's contributing to the discussion at hand. Even then, I never name names because even if I don't like that person, privacy is the one thing I would never give up.
On that story of the man being bullied by a kid, it's weird how that is handled between real life and on the net. If he had been bullied in real life, people would be calling him a wimp, but because it happened on the net, people take it seriously. Kinda a weird double standard.
David W
9. DavidW
You are not anonymous.
I can be. Your claim that it is impossible to be anonymous on the internet demonstrates your own ignorance. It is not as easy as "don't tell people your name" but it is entirely possible. This claim that it is impossible to be anonymous is only spread by people who don't have an understanding of how the internet works.

However, there has always been an expectation that when I sign up for a site, they don't publish information about me such as my ip address, my email address, my password, etc. There is a lot of information that websites have on us that they have no business spreading around unless I give explicit permission that they may do so.

You have a few stories about a few terrible people who had to face the consequences of the things that they did online. I'm not saying that what they did was right or not harmful but we have to consider what we are giving up by promoting these stories as paragons of virtue.

Consider the individual who is living under an oppressive regime and criticizes his / her government on Reddit. Should the Reddit admins publish who he is because what he is doing is illegal in his country? What about someone who is mocking religion? If someone is mocking religion and you have the ability to figure out who he is in real life would you? People face dire consequences for doing and saying things that I think they have a right to do and say. Some of it is tasteless and offensive but learning how to handle this is part of growing up.
If you cannot stand by those activities and convictions “IRL,” then perhaps you've picked the wrong place to hang your hat.
This is a bad argument to use for the desolation of privacy. For the most part I post under my real name but not always. On some parts of the Internet my username is a more personal identifier then my real name. What does DavidW mean to you? Nothing. It's a common enough name but even if it wasn't, my argument's worth comes from the argument itself and not who I am. If a smart person makes a dumb argument, it's still a dumb argument.

I would argue that privacy has a value unto itself. As a society, we function by isolating our interactions with people. When I'm talking with a friend at a restaurant, I would not appreciate our conversation being broadcasted out to the world. It is not because I would be embarrassed by anything said, what I said was not for the world's ears, just my friend's. When I am in an instant message conversation with a friend (GTalk, MSN, etc) I would certainly be upset if I found out that there was a website devoted to judging our conversation.

The reason that this invasion of privacy would bother me is because of how society works. We act and say different things depending on who we are with, where we are, and who our audience is. Removing this ability is destructive as it is central to how we build relationships and trust with each other.

TL;DR: Your statement that it is not possible to be anonymous on the Internet is ignorant and your dismissal of privacy is disturbing.
Ashley Fox
10. A Fox
Interesting.

Its odd how the British perspective is a bit diffrent on this. The concerns are not so much for privacy, but more about the right to free speech. Perhaps becuase of the 'crackdown' on peadophilia...which often used online allias to find said peadophiles, the idea of internet privacy has long since faded. Even when I was in high school it wasnt uncommon for people to reroute the IPs through another IP.

Concerns over the abuse of the right to free speech have been atagonised by cases like those on Facebook & Twitter during the London riots. People were arrested and imprisoned for merely stating where the thick of it was. Then there was the, rather distasteful but non-threatning, tweets aimed at Tom Dayley (whilst homophobic tweets, and ones wishing the arrested tweeter to be raped have been given the blind eye).

It does seem as if arrests occur if the trolls go against celebrity, or against the will of the state, and that these arrests are of, well, dubious position in relation to the law and our rights.
Jeremy Preacher
10. Jeremy Preacher
DavidW, your point about people in oppressive regimes is a good one, and it's worth making that distinction for sure. I think the issue with the Reddit debacle, and many similar situations, is more that people conflate pseudonymity with anonymity, and they trust social conventions to protect them rather than actually going to the relatively technically-advanced lengths necessary to be really anonymous. I don't have any problem with social conventions that protect people's choice of disclosure level, and I generally find "outing" distasteful (even when just) but I do think that people should be aware that social convention is a very thin shield, and if they truly need anonymity, they should find a thicker one.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
DavidW@9:Emily made no claim about anonymity being impossible. She just mentions that it is harder to do than many people realize--and that is true.
Heidi Breton
12. AnemoneFlynn
Working part-time in an Internet-based industry, and with a husband who works full-time there, I can say that yes, nothing is 'private' online. If you're worried about who might see something, just don't post it. Simple as that. Pretend you're in a room with them, they can hear you, and what would you say. Don't use anonymity to hide and expect that to be a lasting protection. Anemone Flynn is a pseudonym for me - but anyone who searches that name can find out my real details pretty quickly! And being aware of that is what helps me maintain honesty and responsibility in what I say and do online.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
13. Benjamin Rosenbaum
While there's a lot to what you are saying, I think it's also too facile; it's generalizing from a particular set of examples and social contexts.

I find myself delighted when abusive trolls like Violentacrez, or fraudsters like "Amina Arraf", are unmasked. But that's because they are abusive trolls and fraudsters -- not because privacy concerns are silly and unmasking is a general good. I'd be less enthused if someone posting "I'm the only gay kid in this town and if my teammates ever find out they'll beat the shit out of me", or a corporate whistleblower, or an *actual* democracy activist in Syria (as opposed to a faux one) was unmasked. James Tiptree, Jr. being outed, for instance, was not cool; the Julie Phillips biography argues that it helped destroy her as an artist. For some people -- for whatever reasons -- anonymity is good and crucial.

Your mom plays the role of a straw man in this story; she was foolishly worried that you weren't in hiding. She overestimated the danger. Well, yes, she did -- but our chuckling at her maternal nervousness is based on your privilege as a person who isn't actually in danger of persecution.

Yes, the internet tends to reveal; it tends toward the exposure of secrets, its offer of anonymity is fragile. This fact is, I think, probably morally neutral. It's good when it works out well. Perhaps one could make an argument that in the grand sweep of history, in the long term, averaged over all cases, it's a good thing: the end of privacy as the birth of a new freedom. Perhaps. But it's trivially easy to find specific individual cases where it's not such a great thing at all.

Is exposing someone's online identity -- "doxxing" in reddit parlance --an act which should be socially censured? My answer is: it depends. It's not an illegal act, but it's an aggressive one. It's an invasion of privacy, a nonconsensual deprival of a resource. The cases you're talking about are all cases we cheer because the aggressive act is justified -- it's an act of self-defense, exposing people who have done harm, and depriving them of the resource they were using to do that harm with. But there are other cases where it isn't justified, and cases where it is in itself abuse.

Instructive is a case of outing that occurred during RaceFail09, where a blogger heatedly criticizing what that blogger saw as racism, had their real identity exposed by people in a position of greater power. Those who supported this act of outing considered the blogger a troll, and doxxing what we do to harmful trolls. Those -- like me -- who were appalled by it, didn't interpret the blogger as a troll, but as a legitimate critic. So the outing looked like an abuse of power, and it was one of the main incidents that fueled one of the great upswellings of rage and anguish seen recently in geekdom.

Reddit seeks to classify doxxing as an ultimate evil; here, you argue that it's not a problem, merely what everyone doing business on the internet should expect, and by extension that right-thinking folk have no need for anonymity anyhow. The truth is somewhere in between.
Noneo Yourbusiness
14. Longtimefan
and then there is this,

https://www.torproject.org/

It is not a hyperlink because i am not that clever but I thought it was a bit relevant.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
15. Lisamarie
I definitely remember my mom FREAKING OUT because I was online, and had even MET PEOPLE online. In fact, I dated somebody all through college that I had met online (and in person), and actually, the man I married is somebody I also met for the first time online. Now, I am absolutely not dismissing the value of people hiding information like that, especially when children are involved, and especially in a situation where you don't know the people well (such as a chat room where you've never met any of the people before). But in my situation it was via a blog site I'd been on for years and at this point have locked down only to trusted people. And, as I pointed out a few times, how well do we know the people we meet at bars, etc and give out our names to?

I am pretty sure people could find me with some work based on my posts here - I am pretty sure I've mentioned my state of origin. But I guess I'm not that concerned because people could also find me based on where I work, or my business card, or whatever. In fact, we were in a car accident recently and I was shocked to see that all the details -including the names of the children involved, their ages, addresses, etc - were completely public and searchable through a public records stie. Let's hope the person who crashed into us isn't a total nut...

But I do also value my privacy in certain things - I had an experience a few years back where I was a little too permissive about what I posted and it did involve in some pretty unpleasant situations, some personal information getting unearthed and some other things that did make me realize I have to be really careful. That being said, if somebody is a bullying troll, I have very, very little sympathy for them.
Matthew Brown
16. morven
@Longtimefan: Tor is not a panacea for privacy. It just makes discovering who you are through your IP address a lot harder.

However, it's extremely hard to manage a persistent online identity without leaking personal information. You display what you know, what your opinions are, the way you write, expressions you use. You leak little things like how many kids you have or the city you grew up in, in casual conversation. A really persistent person will eventually track you down.
William Carter
17. wcarter
8. Futurewriter1120

You're wrong. If someone were posting written notes on that man's door or leaving them in his mailbox with the content the blog/twitter comments contained, people would not "think he was a wimp."

There is very little chance the police would have stayed uninvolved in those circumstances. If someone takes the risk to come to your home or place of business to leave you a threatening statement, then authorities must consider the probability that they intend to act on it.

In the U.S., an unmarked police patrol car would have been ordered into the neighborhood to try and find the suspect. If and when they did find the person, he or she would be facing multiple charges: terroristic threats, conspriacy to commit a crime, and others based on varying state and local laws.

How do I know all this? Because I am journalist and my father was a detective for years.

If anything harrassing statements are treated as less serious when their online because authorities assume it could just be a kid--like the one from the blog post--and that they're harmless until proven otherwise. In the meantime the victims live with a constant fear that some sicko may try to harm either themselves or their families.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
18. shellwb
You all are lucky, those of you who haven't had to deal with unstable people and stalkers who threaten harm. I've had multiple anon IDs since I learned a lesson with the first of them (and no, this isn't one).

Having your anonymity stripped and your identity outed is the same as you standing on a public square and having your clothes ripped off against your will. It's akin to rape (and before anyone starts, been there). Do rapists deserve to be raped in return? Our emotions might tell us yes, but our sense of decency should tell us otherwise. We need a better way to deal with it. I do understand the frustration of those behind no protection. I probably would have done what they did; I'm only human. But I wouldn't have fooled myself into thinking that it was a good practice to put into place.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
19. Eric Saveau
If a smart person makes a dumb argument, it's still a dumb argument.
DavidW, you have made a dumb argument. Conflating the exposure of those who perpretrate and condone the stalking and harrasment of women as exemplified by Violentacrez and his ilk with such broad-ranging things as political dissidents and restaurant conversations is a terrible argument. To the extent that a right to privacy could be said to exist, there's simply no way that it is in any way equivalent to the attempts of people like Violentacrez to shield themselves from any consequences for their misdeeds. Any attempt to claim otherwise is disingenuous at best.
Noneo Yourbusiness
20. Longtimefan
oh, i did not mean actually relevant. just this is Tor and they are Tor and we are all not anonomys together. :)
Douglas Freer
21. Futurewriter1120
@wcarter I was talking about it as if he were being VERBALLY bullied, not the way you described it.
Dave West
22. Jhirrad
I'd like to start by thanking Emily and Tor for this discussion. As recent events have shown, this is becoming a salient issue daily. I would also like to thank everyone posting here for their insight and opinions on the matter. I find it fascinating as well as informative to read these differing opinions, all of which are valid, well-thought, and being politely discussed. Enough adulation for everyone...

I personally fall further on the side of protecting individual privacy than Emily seems to on this matter. @13 Benjamin Rosenbaum stated things very well in his post in my opinion. It is incredibly easy for us to rejoice over the doxxing of someone like Violentacrez because he was a troll. While I'm not on Reddit, having read much of the discussion regarding this, including this incredibly interesting piece by acclaimed author Jon Scalzi, I believe that this particular user was, in every way imagineable, a troll and menace on Reddit. Through his use of pseudonimity, he made the community he was involved with a worse place, not a better one. It's possible that were he forced to to use his true name from the start, the hideous subreddits he created would never have come into existence. Should he have been outed though...?

We should begin by understanding the way in which his doxxing came about. DavidW writes @9
Consider the individual who is living under an oppressive regime and criticizes his / her government on Reddit. Should the Reddit admins publish who he is because what he is doing is illegal in his country?
In the case of Violentacrez/Reddit/Gawker, this is not what happened at all, and the case needs to be clearly distinguished. It was essentially a piece of investigative journalism by a writer at Gawker, Adrian Chen. Was it particular good journalism? I don't think so personally, but that is a different debate. Could Chen have gotten his point across regarding the subreddits created by Violentacrez without making his personal information known publicly? I think he probably could have. But this was NOT a case of a website giving out personal information about its users. Based on the reaction on Reddit, I'm fairly certain what their response to a request for that information would be. Chen used other means to find out the identity of Violentacrez. Again, was his "outing" right or necessary? I don't think so, but it's not a case of the website providing that information to others, which is where I feel DavidW's point goes awry.

I believe wholeheartedly that websites to which I give my personal information have an obligation to maintain my privacy to whatever degree their user agreements dictate. I generally hope that these policies are strong, and in favor of protecting users from invasions of that privacy wherever policy. If I find someone posting neo-Nazi propoganda, and I come out and decry it, I do NOT want the website I've posted on to willy-nilly give my information out so some skinheads can come to my house and beat me to death. @10 A Fox makes a great point regarding the riots in London and the way people disseminating information where arrested as a result of it. I would be horrified if Middle Eastern students who have used the internet to rail and rally against oppressive regimes were to have their personal information turned over to the government in their nation simply because speaking against said government is illegal there. (Yes, I'm sure it happens, and yes, it sickens me.) What this case goes to show is how important it is to protect yourself online still (probably more so than when we first started surfing the web on our 56K modems), and how very, very hard it is to do. Is it possible to continue to remain (mostly) anonymous online? Yes. It is difficult? Incredibly.

I use a pseudonym here. It is not because I'm afraid of people finding out who I am IRL, or I'm worried over voicing my opinions. This pseudonym dates back to when I first found myself heavily involved in the Internet at a place that only a handful of people knew about at the time (Dragonmount.com - yes, I'm showing off just a little bit as one of the first DM members :-) ) and which many people know me by today. I don't use it to hide, but rather, to personify a part of my personality and life which corresponds to that which I am engaged in on this website.

I value my privacy, and respect that of others. @7 Stevenhalter used to be shalter here. He has a name that I knew before he changed his username (not that he was trying in particular to keep his name private to the best of my knowledge) as we worked together to build the language wiki which became a post regarding Patrick Rothfuss's world. We emailed back and forth, and as I didn't restrict myself to Tor.com messages, he got my real name as I got his. However, I would NEVER give that to someone else without consent. There is a very well thought and written response to the Violentacrez story which was posted on GeekWire. The point Zachary Cohn makes in this piece which I find most prevelant to the discussion and which best express my thoughts on the matter:
DOXing isn’t okay because you’re publishing someone’s personal information online, purposely creating a angry vigilante mob, and throwing them to the wolves.
What this comes down to is the fact that it is a very slippery slope we walk along when we begin to engage in and/or encourage this type of behavior. Are those people discussed by Emily guilty of bad, probably immoral behavior? I would certainly argue that they are. Does that mean that we are justified in putting them at risk of bodily harm by outing them in public? I don't think so. What Benjamin Rosenbaum wrote @13 is instructive in my opinion:
I'd be less enthused if someone posting "I'm the only gay kid in this town and if my teammates ever find out they'll beat the shit out of me", or a corporate whistleblower, or an *actual* democracy activist in Syria (as opposed to a faux one) was unmasked.
To me it's not even a question of more or less enthused, but rather more or less upset and worried. Take the first scenario he posed. Then remember Matthew Shephard. Realize that while individuals are generally smart, rational, reasonable creatures, people in a group are decidedly less so. Mob mentality is well documented and the risks that go with it. If anything, internet trolling stems back to this idea that you are much more willing to do something out of your normal character and manner of behavior when 1) Others are doing it and 2) No one can prove it was you. While the case cited by Emily regarding the Anita Sarkesian controversy may seem like justice being done to some, to others is vigilanteism condoned. As someone who served in the military for an extended period of time, including combat, I find that I agree strongly with Voltaire on this matter, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it to the death." There are limits to this, but again, I believe it is a very slippery slope we walk when we begin outing people in this way.


Privacy is an incredibly valuable thing. Here in the US, the Supreme Court has interpreted the 14th Amendment of the Constitution as generally granting an individual a certain general privacy. As Scalzi rightly points out, our US Constitutional rights are only available in so far as government application is concerned. That is, a private entity, such as Reddit, or Tor.com, are not obligated to provide me with freedom of speech or due process or privacy, assuming it is not part of their user agreements. The result is (for me at least) that I am very careful in what I put out there, and only do so with information that I am comfortable with. @16 morven is right though, "a really persistent person will eventually track you down."

I could, honestly, continue to write and discuss this ad nauseum, so I'll just stop here.

TLDR: Privacy is a good thing, and deliberately invading that privacy is, in my opinion, a bad one. All said, be careful what you post online, because while we may want privacy, it's far too easy to invade it.
Dave West
23. Jhirrad
Wow, I really hope the comment I just tried to post gets through. It was really long and I hope to add to and further this discussion. However it was apparently considered to be spam by the system... :(
Bridget McGovern
24. BMcGovern
@Jhirrad--sorry about that! Multiple links sometimes set off our (easily confused) spam filter.
Dave West
25. Jhirrad
@BMcGovern - Thanks! I worked really hard on that reply, and am glad that I can contribute to the discussion. I figured it might be the links doing it, but I felt like they were important additions to the discussion. Thanks again!
stephanie keenan
26. adriel_moonstar
Do criminals have a right to privacy? And what are the limits at which cyberbullying/porn/stalking becomes a crime? What countries standards do we use? Who decides?

@18 Should Rapists be raped...no. But where I live their right to privacy is quite limited. Sex offenders and child molesters are required to register with the local authorities and their identities are available to the public.

Other than outright identity or data theft, and child pornography in some juristictions, cyber crime is not yet well defined. Some trolls are simply annoying, others are doing things that IRL would be defined as crimes (specifically hate crimes in the US). And the failure to draw that line can spill over into real life- just ask Tyler Clemente's parents.

My opinion is that, for the most part, exposure of the identies of trolls is the internet community's way of policing it's own. If you can't do the time...

But the other side of this coin is the fact that those who really need anonymity in order to make valid criticism should to realize that they need to look farther than a user name to find it.
Steven Halter
27. stevenhalter
Jhirrad@25:Excellent post (For really long posts, I usually type them elsewhere so I can try again, just in case).
I agree that there are many cases where anonymity is very important.
There are inummerable categories of people on the net. Some are fully informed. Some are wandering about like cute fuzzy bunnies on the "information superhighway." Some are the equivalent of toxic factories spewing sludge. Some are crazy. There are many more and mixtures of all of these.
Every site creates its own rules and community. Tor.com is (in general) an example of a nicely maintained site with high content to noise ratios for the users. There are sites that don't fit that category quite so much.
For the most part, troll spotting is a lot like the famous phrase from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
Slippery slopes aren't usually all that slippery and some ground rules can sort most cases out. Some trolls do cross the line between annoying and downright dangerous and I can't really say I am concerned if they get revealed.
The difficulty of maintaining anonymity really depends on just who (or what) you want to be anonymous from. If you just want to be anonymous from an average internet user, it isn't too hard. Pick a pseudonym and don't give out your real name. If you want to be anonymous to the NSA, well, good luck with that.
In between those two points in the spectrum lie increasing amounts of proxies, anonymizers and random amounts of travel.
***
In case you were wondering and since you mentioned:
I made a conscious decission a number of years ago to not use a pseudonymn where possible (shalter is my usual user ID and I typed it into tor before I realized it was fixed as my screen name also, now rectified). Mostly this was from a realization that anonymity is difficult to maintain while conducting public discussions and I didn't want to bother with that in most of my intersections with the world. As Scalzi mentioned in another fun post, I also get the privileges low difficulty setting so my anonymity failure mode is low in general.
Dave West
28. Jhirrad
@26 - I think your initial question is incredibly important to this discussion. Do criminals have a right to privacy? To me, it's hard to argue that they do not. I realize that many governments, my own included, often restrict the rights of individuals who have committed crimes. Sex offender registries is a great example of this happening. The argument there is that the needs of public safety outweigh the individual right of privacy to such a great degree that it is warranted. Normally a large portion of this argument is protecting children who are more vulnerable than adults. Whether or not these are a good thing is a different discussion.

You say, "My opinion is that, for the most part, exposure of the identies of trolls is the internet community's way of policing it's own. If you can't do the time..." My response is that first off, we're often not talking about crimes here, but simply very bad behavior. I understand you're using a figure of speech here, but it carries through, because the response is often an implementation of vigilante justice. You even reference that, simply in a more polite manner, "policing it's own". In my opinion, deliberately revealing personal information about a person goes far beyond that and carries much deeper and darker implications. Having moderated websites before, I agree that there should be community "policing", but to me that means doing things like reporting that behavior to those with the power on a site to affect change, and to demand change take place. Should it not, remove yourself from there. By taking retaliatory action, we end up trying to answer "violence" with "violence". Don't get me wrong, I know that it can be effective to do so. The real question is, is it wise to do so? Perhaps more importantly, is that who we want to be?
Alan Brown
29. AlanBrown
One must always be ready to take responsibility for their actions. If everyone behaved this way, the world and the internet would be a better place. While they can serve a purpose in protecting privacy, and are used responsibly by the vast majority, anonymous user names are used by too many people to engage in behavior that they would not want associated with their own name. In some discussions, one negative comment is emboldened by the next, and the result is a storm of criticism that is often undeserved. Web sites devoted to a favorite genre or topic can be filled with such toxic negativity that it makes you wonder why these people became fans in the first place.
I always try to imagine that I am talking to people face to face when I am chatting on the internet, and behave accordingly.
Dave West
30. Jhirrad
Stevenhalter @27 - I was copying and pasting the text into a Word document in case something happened, but I failed to do so with my final set of edits. I was scared!

I agree with you that ground rules can prevent things from escalating. In my opinion, creating those ground rules and enforcing them from the start is the key to combatting trolling. Look at Scalzi on his blog. He doesn't put up with that, with the result being people generally stop trying to troll his site. It's not worth it.

I also agree that some trolls are dangerous. I can envision scenarios where I would work vigorously and actively against trolls. Most times trolls are harmless. I'm a big fan of the saying, "Don't feed the trolls." They want attention - the less you give, the easier they are to deal with. I also worry about collateral damage which can take place as a result of these things. As William Blackstone famously said,
It is better to let 100 guilty men go free than to imprison an innocent person
Also, you're right in saying that anonymity from average web users is simple. From advanced users/government agencies, good luck with that. Interesting article that Cory Doctorow tweeted about discussing that: http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=77E2B079-DEFC-425E-B609-B8AEE3C166B3 .
Ashley Fox
31. A Fox
Its curious-and imo a potencial turning point-in how these ever increasing concerns and exposures holds a mirror to our society.

Dont feed the Trolls. An adage from forums, and later blogs. There were posters (usually affiliated by a particular shared interest) and there were trolls. Then there was facebook,twitter and Ipods, pads, ect. A boom in the communications platforms, easier access and a breaking down of particians.

Trolls do not shock me, I see this behaviour everytime I leave the house. Statisically if three other women were also out then one of us would likely be sexually assaulted.

So perhaps there is a positivity here-even in the most negative cases. People are expressing shock, wanting action and are reflecting upon what is right/wrong. Perhaps they will start to adjust their own behaviour, the desire to raise standards. However the mob menatlity would need to be held in check, with careful consideration.

I think we have all had enough of hasty plans.

I also find it interesting in correlation with the phone hacking scandals etc. Redtops and broadsheet audiances are mingled on Twitter, with a direct and instant line to Celebrity, which has morphed in the Twitterati; being inclusive of those who are known only for their tructuated sentances. Clashes are inevitable, the platfrom now enabling a swifter and greater social momentuum than was previously concieved.

There is great potencial for empowerment, but first we must wade through the dross, confronting the roots of the issues that arise .
Benjamin Rosenbaum
32. Anon27368
Great post Fox; I just want to point out that "don't feed the trolls" actually started on Usenet. I agree with many of your points, especially the one on not letting the things people say bother you. The only reason people "troll" is because they want attention. Trying to expose trolls may get rid of one, two, or even a dozen of them, however the only way to completely erradicate trolls is to simply cease to pay attention to them. It isn't all that hard to remain anonymous online, which makes a lot of the tech savvy trolls extremely hard to trace, but one could have all of the proxies and VPNs in the world and it wouldn't mean a thing if their target simply dismissed their libelous speech.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
33. Phedre
The argument that I have so far not found in this very interesting conversation is that the guy on Reddit is not a Troll at all.
As I understood the case he trolled some forums, fine. But where he crossed the line from simple Troll to serious offender was when he started posting upskirt pictures of underaged girls on the site.

This is not trolling. This is criminal behaviour that cannot be tolerated in any kind of envrironment and I believe that your right to online anonymity disappears when you start breaking laws like that.
If you commit a crime and have to appear in court to answer for your actions your name is no longer anonymus and it becomes a matter of public record. Why should the internet community treat criminals any different?

I will allow that the woman who outed the man in question could also just have given his name to the authorities but in this case I honestly believe that he got a response in proportion to what he was doing.
Dave West
34. Jhirrad
Phedre @33- He did a LOT of trolling from what I understand. However, the picture issue was not a crime. He was re posting pics already widely available.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
35. Phedre
Jhirrad, how is the availability of the pictures before relevant in this case? As far as I'm concerned, and I'm no legal expert, reposting illegal pictures is still a crime. Especially upskirt pictures of underaged girls.
Dave West
36. Jhirrad
Phedre - If there were actual pornography posted that would be illegal. Most all of what he posted however were things which he found on the peoples own Facebook pages, and then reposted them. He went for young girls, hence the name of his subreddit Jailbait. But if they have posted them themselves, and all he's doing is re-posting, nothing illegal about that.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
37. Lisamarie
My understanding was that even if the subject posts or takes the picture, it is pornography. For example, when girls send their boyfriends naked pictures and then it gets found on their cell phone, there is a risk that they could get busted for child pornography possession (and dissemination if they then forward it to all their friends). At least, that's the example I've heard. I may be mistaken on the legality of it (and I'm not familiar with this case and how graphic the pictures were) but I don't think he would get a free pass just because they posted it themselves.
Jeremy Preacher
38. Jeremy Preacher
That's not a really safe claim. It is possible, as an underage girl, to take pictures of yourself that are in fact illegal to own or distribute. And nudity is not a requirement - from that link, "In 1994, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that the federal statute contains no requirement that genitals be visible or discernible. The court ruled that non-nude visual depictions can qualify as lascivious exhibitions"

It's not at all clear that what was going on at r/jailbait or r/creepshots was totally legal, even if no actual lawsuits or arrests have shaken out from them yet.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
39. GunfightAtTheOKCorral
All this kinda reminds me of how lawless the West was, how the 'law' came to town, and how often the (vigilante) lawmen were far more violent than many hardcore criminals nowadays. The internet was so far an untamed land, but increasingly now there is a push towards governmental control, censorship, attacks against net neutrality and so on. It will be interesting to see how it all shapes up, because I'm pretty sure excessive regulations and impeding the free flow of information that the internet currently enables will be disastrous for society in the long run.
Steven Halter
40. stevenhalter
@39:No one is stopping anyone from posting things that meet the rules a site sets out. If you post something to a site that is not within that sites posting rules your post may be removed. Note that private sites (the majority of sites) can allow or disallow anything they want. If you just can't find a place that will let you post what you want, you can always set up your own blog and say whatever you want.
If you annoy enough people enough times, someone may try to figure out who you are (if you are hiding in some fashion). If you haven't really tried to remain secret, then they might mention your name.
If you have said things that you don't want associated with your real name, then this may be a problem for you.
If the someone you make angry is a government, you may get any number of things happening to you--this is a risk that dissidents take.
Dave West
41. Jhirrad
Stevenhalter @40 - Well stated.

To me, the entire discussion comes back to what is the correct regulatory balance. My initial thought is that, no matter what we may consider it to be, it is something which needs to be self-governing. Tor.com is great, because you really don't have that many trolls (I can honestly say that I can't recall more than 1 or 2 troll posts here over the 3+ years I've been on this site) and it doesn't have trolls precisely because the community doesn't tolerate them. Here, I think trolls are swept aside like yesterday's garbage, which teaches them to stay away. What you mention regarding posts being removed (from which I would extrapolate to the option of banning users as well) to me is as far as I'm personally comfortable going, outside of extreme circumstances, which I would define as physical risk to others and serious criminal behavior (I wouldn't consider trying to find out who someone I see posting online is that says they were smoking a joint last night, but I would if someone was threatening to commit an act of violence).
S Tieh
42. infinitieh
Aside from the age-related aspect, there may be a gender-related asect. As a woman, I try really hard not to have too much online presence under my real name. I'm not totally anonymous and I don't troll or discuss anything I wouldn't in real life (politics, religion, certain sports teams, etc.). Many times I don't discuss topics I would in real life either, just so my relative anonymity stays that way. Most pictures of me online (FB, Twitter) don't show my face. I think it's just part of growing up female - don't do anything that will draw the crazies or any unwanted attention because men are physically stronger than I am. No, I don't cower somewhere in a man-free fortress, but some common sense is warranted, in real life as well as online.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
43. Tucci78
When speaking on the Internet about politically charged issues - such as the defense of the unalienable human right of the individual to keep and bear arms, for example - it is common for "Liberal" fascists and other gun-grabbing hoplophobes to get rabidly hateful and do everything possible to attack the disputant voicing the RTKBA contention instead of making any effort to refute the arguments supporting that position.

Similarly, the "social" pseudoconservatives who have no reasoned argument whatsoever for their hatred of sexual heretics will almost invariably direct nothing but vitriolic spew at anyone who observes that these objectively harmless homosexuals are human beings with rights to life, to liberty, to property, and to contract familial relationships coequal in law with those of the matrimonial bonds long recognied between husband and wife.

One can commonly be condemned as a "troll" by the inarticulate idiotic authoritarians online simply for being an effective and eloquent advocate of positions these offspring of diseased dogs greet with incoherent howls of rage.

Considering that these psychotic specimens evince indications of violent tendencies in their confrontations with principled opponents critical of their viciousness in speech, the protections of anonymity - however tenuous - are the only defense against the sorts of character assassination (and, potentially, physical assault) demonstrated by such enemies of social comity and good civil order.

Anyown who claims acutally to care about who an Internet "troll" might be IRL is betraying a desire to counterattack the person himself - in one way and another - rather than to address the argument voiced thereby.

This is not only foolish (as it invariably serves to suppress dissident voices in debate, and that obliterates the give-and-go of discourse) but irrelevant.

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

Therefore you must make your case without reference to your personal identity, your qualifications demonstrated in what you post, not on the basis of who you are.

In 1689, Dr. John Locke (who had just returned from the Netherlands, where he spent years in exile for opposing the Stuart monarchy) had returned to England and published Two Treatises of Government, from the second of which Thomas Jefferson cribbed much of our Declaration of Independence.

Of course, Dr. Locke could not have published that book except by uttering it anonymously.

Get the point, people?
-
Steven Halter
44. stevenhalter
Tucci78@43:All very well, except that we aren't discussing people making cogent and reasoned arguments.
For a good example of moderation in action, read through a few of Scalzi's more popular blog posts. You will notice that as long as people are at least attempting to be logical and non-abusive he will allow discussions on the topic at hand. It is when someone strays over the bounds of decorum that they are most likely malleted out of the post. If their reasoning is less than sound, this will be pointed out (from either side) with a warning on the behavior.
Steven Halter
45. stevenhalter
As a very well done illustration of my point from @44, Scalzi's "Fan Letter" post from last night shows:
(By the way, this isn't the place to discuss the content of the post, just the meta detail)
1) John wanted to speak about a topic. He did.
2) He set clear ground rules. It is John's site--he gets to do this.
3) He is correcting people as they stray over the lines of the rules as set.
4) People are commenting both anonymously and named. This is fine and as should be.
Dave West
46. Jhirrad
Stevenhalter @44 - Perfectly stated in re Tucci78's points @43. The issue at hand in this discussion is not one of people who are, "an effective and eloquent advocate of positions". Rather, what this discussion focuses on are those people who choose to be vitriolic for nothing more than than own amusement. They want to get a rise out of others, and so they take contrary positions in as nasty a fashion as they possibly can. I have seen and taken part in excellent discussions online of extremely sensitive topics where everyone remained civil in the discourse and we were able to share our (vastly) differing opinions without it devolving into something better suited for a combat zone than an internet discussion forum.
alastair chadwin
47. a-j
The problem seems to be that some people interpret freedom of speech as freedom to say/post images of whatever I want wherever I want and not to be challenged on it.
The 'wherever I want' issue has been dealt with above, more cogently than I can manage. Being moderated is not an attack on free speech. A site is a private space with its own rules.
Secondly is the idea that I have frequently met with, that freedom of speech equals freedom from response, rebuttal or criticism. This seems to be very common in forums about sexism and racism.
Finally, freedom of speech does not require anonymity. If anonymity is required to exercise freedom of speech, then there is no freedom of speech. Instead there is a problem, as shown by infiniteah@42's comment above. She has not got freedom of speech because of the sexism she is subjected to and so needs must use anonymity. That is the real issue and problem here, not the 'right' of some unpleasing person to publish photos behind a screen of anonymity.
And anonymity is not good. Secret witnesses, unattributed denunciations, inability to face an accuser? East Germany under the Stasi.
Get the point Tucci78?
:)
Jenny Kristine
48. jennygadget
Jhirrad@ 41

"...and it doesn't have trolls precisely because the community doesn't tolerate them."

Not that the commenters here aren't great, but I would like to point out that we don't have (many) trolls here because we have awesome and hard working moderators. (To which I'd like to give a long overdue: THANK YOU! YOU ARE AWESOME!)

Comments with abusive language get nixed and the editors don't respond to questions like "but why are you talking about sexism/racism/etc on a sff site? whyyyyyy?????" by nixing any posts that talk about sexism/racism/etc. Despite the fact that (I'm guessing) such posts gives the moderators a lot more work to do.
Dave West
49. Jhirrad
jennygadget @48 - I didn't mean to imply that the moderators aren't a huge part of the equation. They obviously are. However, there work is made much easier by 1) The high quality of the comments which is usually found here; 2) Users that aren't bothered by flagging troll posts; 3) A very good, easy to use system to help facilitate 2; and 4) A community which simply doesn't tolerate that. I agree with you, the moderators here are great and they do deserve thanks for all of their hard work. But the community is, in my opinion, the biggest driving factor in the maintenance of civility here, which is (also my opinion again) the best way to govern the internet.

a-j @47 - I have to say that I disagree with what seems to be a blanket assertion on your part that anonymity is necessarily bad. Yes, there are examples where it has been horribly abused. There are also many examples when it is vital for society and individual protection. You talk about the Stasi, an excellent example of your point. However, a counterpoint to that is the very same East German society you reference. Yes, people could denounce people with no evidence, often because they were angry with them, with few repurcusions. But if you wanted to try and effect reform in the nation, you had to do so quietly, secretly, and anonymously, lest those same Stasi come to your house in the middle of the night to arrest you for subversive behavior. As a general principle I believe anonymity, or as we have been discussing here, a right to that and/or privacy, to be a very good thing. It can be abused, but history has shown that the abuses in the other direction are more prevelant.
Mordicai Knode
50. mordicai
I've always been interested in the difference between anonymity & privacy. They SEEM like the same thing, but they are very different. The latter involves a contract-- implied or explicit-- & I think needs to be more the norm. As in "we promise to never reveal your personal information & in exchange, you promise to, I don't know, not be THE WORST PERSON EVER."
Jenny Kristine
51. jennygadget
Jhirrad @ 49

Numbers 2 and 4 are greatly influenced by the moderator's work. Part of why thoughtful commentors come here is because the moderators do the clean-up they do and so the non-trolls don't have to wade through the insults. And part of why the trolls are less likely to bother is because they get less out of it.

Also, while some of this has to do with moderators, and some of this has to do with the commentors, a lot of it, sadly also have to do with the fact that Tor (and Scalzi , because his site was mentioned as well) are just not considered as fun or as easy targets as websites run by certain other organizations and people.

mordicai @ 50

hmmm. that's an interesting idea. I need to think more about it, but I do think you are on to something with regard to a contract being the better model of a workable concept. Much like the way that rights only extent to the point that you are not overstepping the rights of others.
Steven Halter
52. stevenhalter
mordicai@70:Yes, anonymity is trying to keep your true identity unknown.
Privacy is the control of access to your personal information. For example, there are laws that keep hospitals from auctioning off your records.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
53. Kinksville
As someone who participates in several forms of alternate sexuality I depend on anonymity (or to be more accurate, pseudonymity) to protect my private life and separate it from my professional life.

I'm not in any way ashamed of what I do, nor do I consider it to be immoral or wrong. It's all between consenting adults.

However.

There are a number of ways in which having my real name linked to my pseudonym could negatively impact my freedom to live my life as I choose, my job prospects, my relationship with my family, etc.

I'm well aware that I don't have perfect anonymity, and that a dedicated person investigating me could probably eventually tie my real name and my pseudonym together. I have chosen to take the risk of engaging in various communities under my pseudonym or my real name.

I have to disagree with a-j's assertion that anonymity is objectively bad.

Anonymity by itself is neutral. Some people may take advantage of anonymity (or pseudonymity) to engage in bad behavior.

As far as the exposure of individuals like Violentacrez goes, I find myself conflicted. His behavior was abhorrent. But the way he was exposed and the way the moderator of the r/creepshots group was effectively blackmailed into deleting the forum makes me deeply uncomfortable while at the same time delighted that the forum was deleted. Unfortunately it's been replaced by multiple similar venues.

The rise of the practice of 'doxing' is very much a two-edged sword. And on more than one occasion, would-be vigilantes have 'exposed' the wrong person...leaving them to deal with a huge amount of on-line, telephone, and occasionally in-person harassment from people who believe that they did something wrong, whether they did or not.

I don't claim to have an answer to these questions, but I know that I value my privacy and I feel that I have a right (whether it is legally recognized or not) to keep my personal and professional lives separate.
alastair chadwin
54. a-j
I am condemning anonymity outright. If someone wants to be anonymous, fine. The problem arises when someone has to be so. If anonymity is necessary then there is no freedom of speech. If someone wishes to be anonymous, that is not an issue, but if someone is obliged to be anonymous because of their fear of consequences from others for their legitimate activities/beliefs*, then we have a problem. Stuart England and East Germany were not free societies which is why anonymity was required there and then and why there are states where it is required today. Therefore if it is required in the US or the UK then these are not free societies and as citizens of the first or subjects of the second, then that is something that needs to be addressed, and I would suggest, urgently.

*as opposed to non-legitimate ones like, for example, posting sexualised pictures of people below the age of consent.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
55. Kinksville
@54 a-j

I'm not following your argument here. Perhaps you meant that you are *not* condemning anonymity outright?

In response to the rest of your post, I think that you're taking a very complex question and reducing it down to a false binary. Anonymity can be a useful and valid option to allow speech even in relatively free societies. I'm not afraid for my life, or of being criminally prosecuted. I am concerned about employment prospects (which I agree is not ideal), and about potentially exposing family members to stuff about my sex life they would rather not know about. These concerns don't indict the entirety of U.S. society but they are an example of a legitimate reason for someone to prefer anonymity/pseudonimity.
alastair chadwin
56. a-j
Whoops, first sentence should of course have 'not' in it. Sorry.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
57. Reesha
There's so much drama about people being anonymous and privacy rights when a lot of people hoping to build their "platform" and make themselves into a brand are seeking for the exact opposite. They actually want their information in the hands of other people to build their client lists.
I find it kind of ironic.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
58. jamesroses
The defence of free speech as your democratic right begins when you have something of substance to say to the world no matter how erroneous or offensive to others your opinion may be. If, however, you choose to scream inane obscenities through my front door, your First Ammendment rights to freedom of speech will not be engaged and the police can come and carry you away according to law. The internet is a great aid to free speech and the defence of freedom against tyranny. It is also home to people who get off abusing others on public forums because they think it safe to run their mouths behind their keyboard which they would never do in their real lives such as they are. Their actions fall way beneath the protection of free speech. 'Trolls' may be outraged when they are targeted in turn and held to account by their intended victims: good riddance to bad rubbish say we.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
59. LauraLou
Hi Emily

Great article, I've been looking into articles about trolls as I have just written my own on the Koozai blog, this is definitiely one of the most interesting and informative. The privacy issues and right to anonymity argument is about as clear as the right to free speech/what is trolling one...
Benjamin Rosenbaum
60. Yalmic
I believe you, this article almost convinced me, but I fear that these powers will not be used for good.
What happens if someone says something negative about a government?
Or criticizes a decision?
What happens if said government can find this person?
I believe that some sites should be able to have anonymity.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
61. Bailey Campbell
I really enjoyed reading your article! I The information you provided in your article was similar to information I have been learning about in my communication ethics class. One thing you discussed in your article that really stuck out was when you talked about how your email can give off a lot of information and by locating someone’s IP address, their privacy is basically terminated! In our text book, Ess, the author states “many users do not seem to be aware, for example, that their email contains a great deal of information about them- including information that can be used to determine their identity- and that such information is essentially public.”(Ess, 2009 pg 32).
Ess also goes on to discuss how much information an IP address holds about you. I never really understood how much personal information an IP address could hold about you. It is actually very scary to think about. Your ISP (internet service provider) assigns your computer an IP address. This allows your machine to exchange information with websites you visit through your browser which is how your approximate location can be pinpointed. Your IP address is sent along to the various websites you visit.
I also really liked your statement “the internet is not where you hide- it’s where you are found.” This statement could not be any more accurate. Unfortunately, most people do not understand that and by the time they do understand that, it is because something unfortunate has happened. Once again, great article!


Ess, C. (2009). Digital media ethics.Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Benjamin Rosenbaum
62. Mandy42
If you stick to the same story and never veer and tweek names and places and details just enough to throw would be stalkers off the trail while still keeping your story as making sense, it's pretty easy to create an online persona and be a fictional person that may not have any ties to the actual person at all even if their loved ones and friends were looking right at it, wouldn't guess it was them.

Your article seems to focus on harmful trolls, but could also be addressing those harmless people that just want to keep their true identities secret and have a bit of harmless interaction on forums or chat rooms and for the most part no one ever knows that pretty young woman they thought they had the nice chat with was actually some bored, lonely retiree or obese or handicapped person (or even a man) they never would have given the time of day to had they known the truth.

People (online) create the very things they despise (liars online) due to prejudgement and small mindedness, so who can blame a lonely, desperate person for lying about their appearance just to get people to talk with em and get that social need filled? After all no one goes online to chat to guys or unattractive women, so who can blame em for showing these people what they wanna see just to get past some pointless barrier just to chat and interact?

IP Tracking is also not 100% reliable, given someone can use public access computers (libraries, etc) or various mobile devices using Wifi and therefore never truly ever be tracked down (assuming there's a need to).

Not all people that want to keep the personal security online are necessarily trolls. People just label them because they are frustrated that they don't know who to lash out at and mislabel "being honest" as "being a troll".
Benjamin Rosenbaum
63. Marty8877
I think the most simple way is to use proxies, i take proxies from http://www.proxybridge.com, works great!

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