Will Online Anonymity Kill The Singapore Internet? – A Study in Human Expression – Part 1

July 13, 2008


How much do you really value your right to privacy? Allow me to paraphrase; do you value your right to anonymity? Did you know Singapore has been rated as “an endemic surveillance society” in a recent survey ?


What does it really mean when one’s right to privacy is denied? Are we already living in fish bowl land under constant panoptical state surveillance? Or maybe human rights is rotting away silently?


I don’t know about you, but personally I have a hard time coming to grips with this whole issue of privacy. I mean based on my conversations with old folks; they tell me 40 years ago; they had to share a room with four other families and their only claim to privacy was a clothes line. During those heady days when Singapore was just a fishing rump; a man couldn’t indulge in the little pleasures of life such as scratching his balls in peace without provoking the all seeing eye of the nosey parker Auntie brigade, but these days neighbors don’t even talk to each other; the only time one really needs to knock next door is to find out whether the odd body is decomposing.


I guess one way of describing my confused sensation of been ostensibly encroached can best be described; as a puppy in distress yelping off in some corner of my mind whenever I believe my right to privacy has been infringed.


What am I talking about? Fundamentalist insurance agents; inconsiderate commuters who dole out ring tone torture in the MRT; in your face goody good ministers who don’t seem to know the difference between handing out bladder management tips and  suggested solutions.


The problem with my definition of privacy only reveals itself on closer examination; it’s missing one vital ingredient; a genuinely alarmed me! Let me give you a peek-a-booh into my averagely scattered mind.


For example: I don’t mind snoopy cameras in the public square, as I believe it’s a wonderfully effectively way of vacuuming up the odd serial murderer and suicide bomber off our streets; I don’t even mind the odd ball grab body search one occasionally gets in the airport. In fact, I don’t even mind the friendly uncle policeman dropping by from time to time and asking me whether I seen anyone splashing shit on my front door of my neighbor lately.


I do however take exception to my personal details been released for the purposes of telemarketing. I don’t believe online anonymity should be necessarily treated as a character flaw. And I don’t see why anyone should even have to be apologist for remain anon. So as you can see my right to privacy is really a mixed cocktail. There’s nothing that really stands out and declares, “This is the line!”


Having readily admitted I am terminally blasse about privacy; I do believe a line needs to be clearly drawn on the sand. Otherwise there’s always a danger one may slip into a lull only to suddenly wake up in North Korean. What am I referring too? Function creep that’s what I call it. That inexorable law of human nature when one gives an inch only to end up losing a foot ; it becomes all too real when ordinary folk don’t know when, how or even why they should insist on their fundamental rights to privacy.


You could say I believe everyone has a right to a personal sphere of bubble, a free space so to speak. That illicit unaccountable time comprising of fire stairs cigarette breaks; indolent moments when one is just whiling the moments in the office; or lunch breaks that seem to stretch on longer than they should. Providing it doesn’t affect one’s productivity, I don’t see why ordinary folk aren’t allowed to have these little slices of pleasure which makes life bearable.


The Internet for instance has certainly provided most of us with an unprecedented ability to communicate and share ideas while keeping our privacy intact. Online anonymity has certainly opened the door to a much freer public square? For one it remains a sanctuary for those who fear persecution, ostracism or embarrassment by allowing them the flexibility to communicate about topics and in ways they would not risk otherwise?


It would seem there’s also a dystopian side to this new found freedom; online anonymity can also be used to mask illegal behavior. In some cases it can scissor through reputations leaving relationships in tatters. However, let’s be clear; this problem isn’t as rife as it’s often painted out to be and on the balance; even those who are anti- anon have to admit anonymity adds rather than subtracts from any discussion; sure there are a few idiots who will always spoil the soup; but that human condition has always existed even in the real world; the inconsiderate chatterer in the theater; the flasher in the park; the serial stalker who rummages through every bit of your life.


Besides governments already have a right to prosecute criminal behavior or to pursue legal actions for defamation, copyright infringement, or other civil wrongs in anonland. Even the whole idea of online anonymity is at best a security blanket; the moment one post; there’s always a record, an electronic trail that guarantees that it can always be traced to the originator.


What really disturbs me is how increasingly online anonymity per se is often synonymously equated with binge drinking i.e unmitigated slander, uninhibited violence along with encouraging feral behavior. These days online anonymity isn’t just the stuff of sand box politics on associates with petulance and  incontinence.


It’s gone big league; with headliners such anon hate mailers, sex fiends and pedophiles. I think that creates an ethical dilemma for everyone who wants to participate anonymous. Are we indirectly through our insistence to remain anonymous encouraging a sub culture of violence, irresponsibility and unbridle freedom that can only drive out the good in our net?


To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t really know.


[This article was once written by Darkness – and posted in ASICS, PBK, Strangelands, The Intelligent Singaporean, WOS and The Singapore Daily / The FILB has managed to reconstitute this article by weaving together seamlessly discussions and materials pertaining to the subject of “online anonymity” which were posted in the commentary of Phi Beta Kappa – considerable creative license has been taken and every attempt to preserve the grammatical and spelling mistakes have been undertaken to make sure your reading enjoyment remains a memorable one – the brotherhood press was ceased all publications – this is a effort by both the FILB and the Mercantile Guild – The Brotherhood Press 2008]

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