"Anonymous" is a term signifying an immediate image: usually some hooded figure or something like that. With the group Anonymous, the word has started being associated with Guy Fawkes masks and Internet hackers. With the recent Steubenville rape case and Anonymous' reaction to it, I have been thinking about the power of anonymity especially as it pertains to the Internet.
An anonymous person could be anyone. Literally anyone. This is obvious from the definition of "anonymous", of course, and it's easy to simply say it but, if the meaning is truly grasped, is so mind-blowing it's incredulous. There are so many possible identities that person could have, so many personalities, so many struggles. It could even be anyone we know, someone who had a side completely foreign to us. From day to day, most people live as stymied selves. Out in the open, most present fronts and control their hazardous impulses. They worry (rightfully so) about the consequences of their actions. Their name is attached to them and they are accountable for anything that is said.
However, in online anonymity, they are free of that burden. The results are mixed.
In many ways, this causes people to show the primal sides of themselves that they hadn't explored before. Often, people express their rage, insecurity, lust, revealing their truly pathetic nature. It is not uncommon to see cruelty and stupidity all over the Internet. YouTubers are routinely harassed for their appearance and subjected to other harsh criticism and objectification (especially if they're female). It is also not uncommon for people to leave spam comments or, worse yet, "troll" or leave shocking comments on a video with an intent to start an argument. As I said, there are also people who are just downright stupid in their comments that vary in the level of sheer stupidity, doing everything from pulling magical facts out of their ass or stating incredibly ignorant opinions. These people don't need to answer to anyone or anything in the Internet anarchy machine they inhabit and, sadly, some take advantage of that.
The negative sides of anonymity have been stated numerous times, though. The positives, however, have not. This is a shame because there are truly beneficial sides to anonymity that most people don't mention.
Anonymity gives you the freedom to say whatever you want to say. Often, this gives people the freedom to say the opinions that they wouldn't have other had the courage to say. Sometimes, these people have truly great ideas that they have kept silent for fear of retaliation; sometimes, YouTube gives them an outlet. On YouTube and other commenting/ forum places, they can say what needs to be said and positively impact someone. Through anonymity, these people can explore ideas that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to explore and engage in interesting debates that they wouldn't have otherwise had. All of this would have been impossible without anonymity. And, also, yes, people can be stupid but that can be a good thing too. Sometimes, a place to be stupid can be a good thing. Human beings need to be stupid and make mistakes before they can move forward, after all, and that includes intellectual thoughts. Anonymity can give them the ability to be corrected and to learn. Sometimes, anonymity can even power someone to ask for help. Most of all, though, anonymity allows people privacy, keeping them safe online and their beliefs and habits private from people who might discriminate them. In many ways, anonymity makes the Internet a safer place yet, at the same time, a worse one.
I think anonymity is integral to the Internet, though, and I think it's the reason why it's been so successful. But that might change. Google has been pressuring its users to release their full names in YouTube comments. I disagree with this. If they release my name, I will have no choice but to refrain from commenting or to make up an alias. Without anonymity, I wouldn't be able to reveal my thoughts. Sometimes, being anonymous is the only way to stay safe.
Now, in terms of Anonymous? I suppose they make it somewhat easier to commit cybercrime and to cover it up as well as to endanger other people through hacking. In theory, I should be opposed to what they're doing in the Steubenville case because they're obstructing justice. I'm not, though. What they did was very brave and they are bring to justice when there would have otherwise been none. Yes we are not giving them a "fair trial" but with a rape case in a rape culture, the odds are stacked in favor of the rapist. In this regard, anonymity has empowered Anonymous to do something very courageous and they are, as I said before, saying what needs to be said (or shown what needs to be shown in the case of the video released).
I suppose that brings another point: some people simply don't deserve anonymity. As (possibly potential) rapists, these boys have (most likely) committed a violent crime. The fact that they have done so makes them a (potential) threat to society and thus people need to be notified of their presence. The fact that they are juveniles does not diminish this fact. Anonymity is a privilege and, if abused, is one that deserves to be lost. I cannot know when this is the case because there are so many shades of gray there. So when can we deduce that anonymity should be lost? I don't quite know.
Anonymity is a mixed bag. But it is whatever people make it and it appears that it's here to stay. We, as the Internet community and as people, can each decide whether to use our anonymity for to do good or to do harm. However, we all must take responsibility for what goes on the Internet and elsewhere when we are anonymous. Because, in many ways, each and every person is Anonymous.