The Threat of Anonymity
The Internet has been a major game-changer for globalisation. While there are miles of distance between nations on opposite sides of the world, the boundary-crossing nature of the Internet has allowed for unprecedented global interconnectedness. However, problems arise when opposing parties interpret and analyse situations, messages, and images in contrasting ways.
Tomoko Koda investigated the cultural differences in avatar expression across Japanese and Western avatar designs, and found that those living in close proximity of one another could interpret avatars designed by those near them, while those not living in close proximity of one another had different interpretations of such avatars. Although the Internet seems to be compacting parts of the world together, clearly it is also highlighting many of the misinterpretations that occur across different cultures.
We see this misinterpretation in Julian Dibbell’s ‘A Rape In Cyberspace’ where an individual who gets raped in the virtual world, becomes overwhelmed by the emotional anxiety of the event. The victim, while only having been the victim of a virtual rape, feels a very real sense of trauma regarding the situation, however the rapist, Mr Bungle, does not sympathise with this. For what was an investment of time and life on the victim’s behalf, was merely a form of entertainment for the culprit. It turns out that Mr Bungle was not a single individual, but a group of young students encouraging an impressionable controller to have some ‘fun’ and engage in such an act.
Mr Bungle’s actions were a result of immature peer-pressure, however, this was more serious than pushing your mate to have a beer or cigarette- while there may have been no physical repercussions for their foolish virtual actions, the victim found herself with genuine emotional and mental distress.
Cyberspace allows for this sort of misunderstanding, and misalignment of perspectives, however it is not the Internet itself to blame, rather the anonymity it facilitates. ‘With respect to cyberspace, identities are easily cloaked in anonymity’ (Chawki, 2006). The ability to present ones self as a faceless and nameless character on a screen often causes individuals to feel invincible. This invincibility then manifests itself in the form of thoughtless and idiotic behaviour, like that of Mr Bungle. While privacy and security are significant factors to consider when being active online, individuals using an anonymous username for purposes more sinister than these pose as a threat to the cyberspace community.
‘Criminals who wish to use a computer as a tool to facilitate unlawful activity may find that the Internet provides a vast, inexpensive and potentially anonymous way to commit unlawful acts’ (Chawki, 2006). Anonymity aids the processes of criminals, and often makes it hard to ever find culprits. This is concerning because beyond the typical cybercrimes of fraud and distribution of child pornography are the crimes that appear to be no more than virtual, but actually affect their victims in a way that real life rape, abuse and personal violation would.
So don’t be like Mr Bungle and become a part of the threat of anonymity.
- Dibbell, J 1993, A Rape in Cyberspace, My Tiny Life, accessed 29/3/15 http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html
- Koda, T 2009, Avatar Culture: Cross-Cultural Evaluations of Avatar Facial Expressions, Al and Society, vol. 24, no. 3, accessed 29/3/15
- Chawki, M 2006, Anonymity in Cyberspace: Finding the Balance between Privacy and Security, Droit-Tic, accessed 29/3/15 http://www.droit-tic.com/pdf/Anonymity_Cyberspace.pdf