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Tuesday, December 9

The Role of Anonymity in Online Rhetoric

My thesis was quoted for a draft of a research paper:

This escape, however, tends to affect the behavior of anonymous commenters and does not always free them from the consequences of their words. In his article “The Impact of Anonymity on Disinhibitive Behavior Through Computer-Mediated Communication,” Michael Tresca explains that in the use of anonymity “with no fear of retaliation, the inability to perceive or clearly delineate authoritarian positions, and the relative ease with which anonymity can be achieved, a user’s level of disinhibition is likely to be high.” In rhetorical terms, the lack of ethos caused by anonymity leaves the speaker in a position where they believe they cannot be held accountable for their words and are therefore less likely to participate in productive rhetoric. Tresca also delineates disinhibitive actions often taken under the guise of anonymity, including “conspiracy, electronic hate-mail, electronic stalking, libel, disclosure of trade secrets and other valuable intellectual property.” Just this year, an anonymous user created a national stir with his disinhibitive behavior: hacking Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s personal email account. Twenty year old David Kernell then posted both the account name and password on 4chan on September 18th, allowing several hours of access to the account before another anonymous user termed the “Good Samaritan” changed Palin’s password and prevented further access (Citation – AotS video 1). His freedom did not last long – the FBI and Secret Service tracked him down not a month later, and he was indicted on October 10th (Citation – AotS video 2). In this notable case, the illusion of protection that anonymity provides proved to be just that: an illusion. Kernell’s IRL ethos will forever be stained by his online actions, a publicized example of anonymity’s inability to fully disconnect ethos from the speaker. [MORE]


posted by Michael Tresca at 7:22 PM

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