Friday, 12 October 2007

The internet and anonymity

Following on neatly from Naomi Klein’s observations about blogging, Chris Hope has highlighted in his Daily Telegraph blog that the most visited political party website on the internet is that of the BNP.

The ensuing debate as to why this might be is unfolding on Slugger.

My perspective is that the frisson of taboo is sufficient exciting to get people Googling frantically in search of the far right. There is a “through the fingers” fascination which has much in common with the instinct which causes web users to send each other links to David Icke’s site or those devoted to certain more “niche” sexual practices.
Both stories raise certain fundamental questions about the nature of the internet / blogging and these phenomena’s relationship to mainstream media.
During the BNP debate, the anonymity of internet usage has been mentioned as a possible factor in the statistics. Within their own homes web users will pursue interests which they wouldn’t dare indulge in a library or newsagent.
Of course contributing political opinion on the internet can also be an anonymous affair, the blog you are currently reading being a prime example (although my perfunctory anonymity is a shallow and easily demolished edifice). There can be little doubt that retaining anonymity whilst giving opinion does somewhat lessen the burden of responsibility which that opinion attaches to the contributor. That is a distinction which journalists have not been slow to point out.
This anonymous blog is, as I’m sure you’ll agree a repository of moderation, tolerance, erudition and irrefutable good sense. More fallible bloggers may feel their anonymity frees them to express unpalatable and extremist views.
Whether this corresponds to a triumph of free speech and liberation of our collective unconscious for the betterment of mankind, or whether it is dangerous to provide a platform which is anonymous both in its creation and consumption is a question much too profound for a hungry man at 4.50pm on a Friday afternoon.

No comments: