The Ethics of Online Anonymity or Zuckerberg vs. 'Moot'
By Robert Bodle, PhD, College of Mount St. Joseph, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper argues that anonymity in networked digital communications is indispensable as an enabler of other inalienable rights including informational privacy and freedom of expression. Yet, an alignment of industry norms, practices, ethics, and techno-social design asserts a persistent identity ecosystem, making online anonymity more difficult to achieve. This paper reappraises the democratic uses, affordances, and human rights dimensions of online anonymity in order to advance an ethical justification for its protection.
Anonymity online is increasingly at risk of becoming extinct due to a host of converging developments. A rash of defamation lawsuits have eroded legal protection for anonymous defendants (Kerr, Steeves, & Luckock, 2009). Intellectual property maximalists push for a legal mandate to track and monitor infringing uses/users through intermediary liability (Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and Public Interest, 2011). Democratic and totalitarian alike nations-states monitor citizens’ online communication and amass big data on citizens. Law enforcement agencies seek to lower the legal threshold to use information technology to track and convict criminals (e.g., GPS-enabled ubiquitous surveillance). And a powerful ad-funded Internet industry advocates for real name only policies that are shaping an online environment that probihibits anonymous, non-identifiable communication by design. These combined factors suggest a climate increasingly hostile to anonymity and pseudonymity in networked digital communications. Added to these developments is an unprecedented technical ability to share and be tracked online.