Oh we love our freedoms, especially the ones that let us indulge in our least useful or potentially damaging impulses. We love it so much that we try to invest certain concepts with the power of a ‘right’ and start to behave accordingly. Specifically, the very wrong idea that internet anonymity is a right of every digital citizen. So, so wrong. Bad for the individual, and disastrous for society.
At the heart of the matter is a juvenile desire to not be held accountable for your own actions. The struggle between responsibility and indulgence plays out in every human psyche, and it of course makes its way into popular culture. Three examples: Internet anonymity, wild west fantasies, and the ‘no snitching’ slogans from rap culture.
The romantic version of the wild west has it as a land of limitless possibility and wide open space, where you can do what you want to and the government can’t tell you what to do. sure, you can watch the spaghetti westerns and dream of that freedom, but in reality you still had to get along with the people around you and play by the rules, or you’d get shot.
‘No snitching’ is the most direct and least sensible manifestation, since it advocates turning a blind eye to every crime and misdeed you see, as long as it doesn’t directly affect you. That’s bound to turn out well. Sure, there is a deeper and more complicated element of police brutality and distrust in the urban communities of America, but its usually good business to tell the police when you think your neighbor might be a serial killer.
When it comes to online interaction, the romanticism of creating a whole new you is the centre of argument in favour of anonymity. In reality, being unknown to the people you interact with online only leads to an increase of thick-headed, callous, stupid and sometimes inhuman behavior. If you haven’t heard of 4chan, look it up on wikipedia, but please do not go there.
Human society, the basic tribal connection we share, depends on accountability to each other. Though we struggle against this obligation, in the end we are stronger because of our peers and neighbors being able to watch us and hold us to a better standard of behavior.