Since the beginning of the Internet, a wild-west mentality has prevailed with people anonymously blasting articles and blogs with caustic comments. The authors and bloggers are stunned and left shaking their heads wondering about the anger and venom they’ve suffered.
For decades the Internet hasn’t held users accountable for reckless comments. But that may be changing in two ways. First, social networking sites, such as Facebook, are requiring participants to use their real names. In addition, lawsuits are also being filed against anonymous Internet users for slanderous comments or posting vital information about crimes.
Many would (and still do) argue that online anonymity will not fade away. Just imagine the sound of keyboards declaring that Internet users deserve their first amendment rights- FREEDOM OF SPEECH. So, the question is, does the first amendment cover a person who hides behind a false name only to harm others or add fuel to the fire? The answer is NO.
Consequences: It’s widely known that unruly or harsh comments associated with a person’s real persona could cost them a prospective job, clients and reputation. Hiding behind a fictitious name does not provide real protection, as digital fingerprints are easy to track.
Take for example the non-ethical behavior of companies who have asked their employees to provide glowing third party comments to impact stock price or sales. The courts have simply called this type of corporate behavior, fraud.
Here at Buzzphoria (www.buzzphoria.com), we respect the disclosure of identity standards from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMMA, which requires members to disclose their relationships or identities with consumers when they may influence a customer’s buying-decision. Our rules of the worldwide-web begin with an introduction of who we are, the name of client we represent and our purpose for responding to the blog or article. That is just the way we do business.
Telling the truth –It’s not only the right thing to do- it takes courage. For example Activision Blizzard Inc., one of the world’s largest videogame companies, boldly set guidelines for users’ online posts.
The company placed a requirement that gamers list their real names to post messages in online forums, just in time for the change to be applied to its first forums of the company’s highly anticipated “StarCraft II,” which was released in late July. The purpose of the policy was to deflate the sometimes-nasty discussions amongst gamers.
Sadly, the policy collapsed after a widespread backlash from game users. The service is based on paid-subscriptions, and the company was concerned a revolt from consumers could mean a drop in sales.
But what is to be said about online sites that are not held at the mercy of consumers’ demand? Are they more willing to allow users to post factitious names without being held accountable for any wrong doings? A growing number of legal decisions are making it easier for lawyers to use legal proceedings to have online users’ names disclose. A move that hints the guidelines for Internet postings may shift for safety reasons, and to control unruly and malicious users.
One infamous case, the Lori Drew MySpace trial, made international headlines as the court reviewed evidence that a St. Louis suburb mom established a fake online identity to bully her daughter’s rival, who eventually committed suicide. Although the court eventually threw out the case, the judge threatened to criminalize the act of creating a fake persona online. The publicity surrounding the case echoed through the Internet community.
For now, users still have the right to their online anonymity. But based on the string of legal cases and Internet company reactions, there may soon be a major change to Internet users rights. In the meantime, users should be careful about their content, and the possible damage it may cause.
The simplest rule to follow is- use your name and stand behind your words. Why would so many users fight this?