In this world of Web 2.0, most of us have online identities (and sometimes several of them), represented within social networks, on blogs and within the forums and comments sections of other websites.
Just as in real life however, we tend to display different faces to different audiences; you might not, for example, post the same content to your LinkedIn page as you would to your Facebook profile. Call it self-preservation or privacy, but many people like to control what personal information is accessible.
Nevertheless, problems can arise when that degree of secrecy becomes full-blown anonymity; throw trolling into the mix and the whole issue becomes a lot more complicated. Vitriolic tweeters and bloggers, empowered by their hidden persona, can cause real damage and reveal the ugly side of user-generated content and the social internet.
So, should identity be transparent? If so, when? And is total anonymity acceptable?
The subject has dichotomised users and unsurprisingly, with clearly vested interests, the internet behemoths have all adopted positions. Google pinned its colours to the mast some time ago, in December 2009, when the then CEO, Eric Schmidt, espoused his infamous opinion that, “if you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on this issue if nothing else, takes a similar line to that of Google and perhaps goes even further, proclaiming in David Kirkpatrick’s book ‘The Facebook Effect’ that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
On the other side of the coin are those who argue the importance of unencumbered content sharing, for reasons of security (such as during the ‘Arab Spring’ recently) or to promote freedom of expression and creativity. 4Chan founder Christopher “Moot” Poole is a high-profile supporter of this cause.
To learn more about the arguments for both sides, check out the infographic below. With such powerful contenders, it’s a battle that will shape the future of the internet.