Where Anonymity Stops and Law Begins

judges court gavel on a laptop computerOnline anonymity sure does sound appealing, and in most cases it is. However, when you begin to abuse the system, the law steps in. One of the biggest perks of hiding identity online is the freedom of speech, which creates a boundary-less atmosphere. While alluring, it is easy to make crass comments that might not come out in real life. Sometimes, these types of comments or posts can go too far, to the point of degrading others.

Typically, if a person feels victimized, they can bring their issue to court. Online or not, harassment is illegal, and is also worthy of a trial. More and more online harassment cases are springing up due to extensive internet communication. Many of these trials are not just about battling with harassment, but they also deal with the issue that the victim doesn’t know who actually was harassing them in the first place.

As a social network user myself, I know how easy it can seem to just hide your identity and shout out whatever you’re really thinking. But even though it seems awfully tempting, I wouldn’t recommend it; especially if you plan on using it to insult or harass others online. Aside from promoting this for peace-keeping purposes, I also know how easily the court can trace your identity if need be. Essentially, unless you fight for your right to keep your anonymity in court, it will be disclosed. Even then, it is not guaranteed that your personal information will be withheld– it’s up to the judge! Freedom of speech is a right, however carrying this over to the online world is a new concept that the courts are dealing with. The more court cases that occur, the more likely a law that prohibits anonymous harassment online will be created. At this point however, it varies trial by trial.

One recent example of an anonymity harassment case deals with a woman from New York named Rosemary Port who was blogging about a fashion model. In her blog, she proceeded to call the model degrading names. After seeing the comments, the model demanded the name of the blogger and  “it took a court order to reveal her identity” (Whitelaw). But just like that, Rosemary Port went from being anonymous online to having her name in the New York Post.

It is a safe tip to assume that “Internet users should never assume that they will remain anonymous” (Whitelaw). Even if you go out of your way to purchase online anonymity tools, you must be cautious. Remaining anonymous to avoid viruses is one thing, but doing so to talk down on others is another. Once harassment is brought up in court because of anonymity issues, it is likely that the information will be revealed. Just because you might hide yourself behind another name does not mean that your real information is nowhere to be found. There are tracking devices and software that courts can use to obtain information. Not to mention that most sites store your information into their database.


What Exactly is Online Anonymity?

internet-anonymityIt’s pretty clear that to be online anonymously means to withhold public information about oneself and remain mysterious, just as a person might try to in real life. However, internet anonymity is much easier to keep identity at bay because there is no real need for face to face contact as there is in the real world. It is true that “the information they do reveal is controlled by the user” (“Staying Online Anonymously“). This way, only some parts of websites, or all, displays no identity of the person seeking privacy. By using an online anonymity tool, there is no way to be tracked by location, internet activity or personal information. Here’s an example of one such useful anonymity tool:

Because these identity blocking methods allow for little tracking of a person, there is a much less of a chance for hackers to get into computer databases. Therefore, viruses will occur rarely, if at all. Another perk is that any type of identity theft, such as stealing credit card information, is unlikely. This is due to the fact that any personal criteria a thief would need is hidden, making stealing a serious undertaking. It also goes without saying that being anonymous on social networks and chat websites creates a judgement-free zone to more freely voice opinions without the public crashing down. While the anonymous user can still read any comments directed at them, they are safe to know that those commenters will never know who really said it at all. This sense of safety opens doors for speaking the mind, and to many is believed to be “the most important aspect of free speech on the Internet” (“Staying Online Anonymously“).

Just as in most cases, there are positives and negatives when it comes to on online anonymity. While there are a variety of useful purposes for being anonymous online, there are also some scary realities. The common person may try to hide their identity from fraud, but that also means the delinquent perhaps doing the theft is also allowed to conceal their own identity. This makes it harder to track down stolen back accounts and forged identities. It also fosters a strange thought that the Internet could become a place full of conversation from faceless voices. If everyone is willing to share their opinion but no one is willing to take recognition for it, how much worth does it really have?