Guess Who

Evelyn Streit, Columnist

The internet: a steadily growing system that connects devices all around the world that is becoming more and more popular worldwide. However, with this popularity and convenience comes many drawbacks as well. One such obstacle has to do with if who you are outside of the screens is who you are online: your online identity. People tend to disagree when it comes to how you identify online. To put one argument in perspective, if everyone started to use fake names and fake accounts, many problems including identity theft, lack of trust, and a possible increase in cyberbullying may arise. But if your personal information is required for every site on the web, doesn’t it start to take away from your freedom and privacy as an individual?                                   

Many instances can occur where a fake or masked identity can be considered a good thing. For example, this method allows people to comfortably share controversial or unpopular ideas. Although freedom of speech is written into the First Amendment of the United States, it isn’t a globally accepted right, so obscuring one’s identity on the web could provide a safe way for people to share their opinions without fear of potential unwanted consequences. It also allows U.S. citizens to share in their own beliefs without online harassment. For these reasons, fake identities could actually prove to be (in some cases) a safer way of online communication and could be vital in order to bring light to current issues and spark change.

Many different social media sites have recently provided the platforms for people all over the world to organize marches and events that have worked toward creating a better future. For instance, according to The Washington Post, people all over the world were inspired to take part in the January Women’s March by a “Facebook post from one woman with no history of activism.” Again though, this type of post might not be safe for people in other parts of the world. As a possible solution, a few big social media sites have started to allow the use of fictional names or anonymous posts. According to The New York Times, Google and Twitter are beginning to experiment with permitting users in special cases to use fictional names in order to make these users feel more comfortable and secure. Furthermore, some users might be worried about giving out too much of their information to the sites they collaborate with. Personal information is not something that people just like to go around sharing and for good reason, too, because if a company has too much information on an individual, it would make sense for the individual to be cautious of things like blackmail, spying, or other things that might be used against them.

On the other hand, it is a scary thought that who you are talking to online might not be the same person in real life. Although Google and Twitter have made some changes to what is required on their sites, according to The New York Times, Facebook still requires a real name. It is all dependent on what is more important to people: anonymity and freedom or total safety. Another question has to do with how people will behave online if nobody knows for sure who you are. Will it increase the amount of cyber-bullying? Will things like catfishing become a more common occurrence? Obviously it isn’t right to lie about yourself online if you have immoral reasons.

Luckily, there are some ways to solve this problem. According to the South China Morning Post, in order to avoid undesirable situations, a user’s identity and information could be confirmed by a third party before registry. Also, the claim that cyberbullying might grow doesn’t have any evidence to back it up. Cyberbullying is definitely a problem, but this will happen whether you know exactly who you are talking to or not. Lastly, some might say that requiring use of a real name will create a safer environment, but will it really? Yes, it might lower the chance of someone pretending to be something they are not, but there is always a flaw to the system. This has become more and more of an issue as people have gotten more used to the web and how it works. People all the way across the ocean in China and other places have found ways to get into computers and devices in the United States. So it is up to you. Would you rather have freedom and privacy or complete safety that might not even be that complete?

Full identification online is not the right solution as it simply takes away too much of your freedom. Fake identities may not be the answer either. There should be an option in websites to post anonymously, but this should not require information on the writer’s part. In the future, the key will be to find a sort of middle ground between total access to a person’s information and none at all.